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Alan Bradley – The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

February 27, 2014

6. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley (2014)
The Buckshaw Chronicles, Book 6

Read my review of book:
1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
2. The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
3. A Red Herring Without Mustard
4. I am Half-Sick of Shadows
5. Speaking from Among the Bones

Length: 336 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Started: 02 February 2014
Finished: 05 February 2014

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? New Flavia book, hooray!

The de Luce family
is full of secrets, but none
Flavia can’t solve!

(That’s me totally cheating my syllable count based on my personal mush-mouthed pronunciation of “famm-lee”… but it’s my haiku and I can cheat if I want to.)

Summary: Almost-twelve-year-old chemist and occasional poisoner Flavia de Luce has seen a lot of bodies in the past year, but this one is different. Flavia’s mother, Harriet, has been missing since Flavia was just a baby, but her body has finally been recovered, from where it was frozen in a glacier, and has been returned to their home at Buckshaw. It’s obviously a time of turmoil for all of the de Luces, but when a strange man approaches Flavia at the train station with a cryptic message about pheasant sandwiches, and then dies in a gristly accident, Flavia starts to wonder who her mother really was. But did Harriet have secrets that people would die – or kill – to protect? Or is Flavia just manufacturing a mystery as a way of dealing with her grief?

Review: My favorite part of the Flavia de Luce books has always been Flavia’s relationships with her family, followed by the chemistry and precocious-eleven-year-old-ness of it all, with the murder mystery aspect ranking as least important. So it’s probably no surprise that I quite enjoyed this installment, where most of the energy of the story was focused on the emotional upheaval of finally having proof of Harriet’s death, and Flavia meeting her mother for essentially the first time. We get a lot of backstory in this book, not just Harriet’s, but Dogger’s as well. It does occasionally tend to come in an info-dump rush, but it’s all interesting, so I can’t complain too much. There are some intensely touching scenes between Flavia and her sister, Flavia and her father, and Flavia alone with her mother.

The mystery aspect of things, on the other hand, was not great. I figured out probably 90% of what was going on very early in the story, in terms of the general outlines of bad guys and murders and who was doing what. What I thought were the most interesting secrets that the book hinted at – what Harriet was really up to – were unfortunately left frustratingly vague. I’m also not entirely sure how I feel about the ending. On the one hand, it promises an interesting new direction for the series to take, but on the other hand, it felt a little unrealistic, even for this series, and also like a little bit of picked-on-younger-sibling wish fulfillment on the part of the author. But overall, I had fun with this book, as I always do with this series, and Flavia’s lost none of her charm as a narrator even as she’s started to grow up. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: All of the impact of this book would be lost if you weren’t already familiar with Flavia and her family, so don’t start here. But the series as a whole is smart and charming and whimsical and heartfelt and just very enjoyable for anyone who likes plucky, precocious narrators who have to face the occasional murder mystery.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Beth’s Book-Nook Blog, Monniblog, Popcorn Reads, and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: “Your mother has been found.”

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • Location 650: “Except for the looking glass on the dresser, and the cheval glass in the corner, each of which had been covered just yesterday with a black pall, everything in the boudoir, from Harriet’s Fabergé combs and brushes (one of which still had several strands of her hair caught up in its bristles) and Lalique scent bottles to her absurdly practical carpet slippers standing ready beside her great princess-and-the-pea four-poster bed, was precisely as she had left it on that last day.” – a mirror swinging in a frame, and large enough to reflect the full length figure.
  • Location 857: ““Meaning,” Dogger said, “that we shall have this film repaired hubble-de-shuff.”” – Confusedly. To fire hubble de shuff, to fire quick and irregularly. Old military term. (I don’t think that’s what Dogger meant, though.)
  • Location 968: “The Union Jack had been replaced with a black pall bearing the de Luce coat of arms: per bend sinister sable and argent, two lucies haurient counterchanged.” – A pike (the fish); as if rising for air.
  • Location 1276: “There was more of him than it seemed possible for such a frail craft to have contained, but he kept coming and coming until at the end of one of his impossibly long legs a foot appeared, a foot which lifted itself neatly out over the cowling and planted itself on the root of one of the wings.” – A removable metal covering for an engine, especially an aircraft engine.
  • Location 1415: “Every last crater of her old phizog was cataloged as carefully as it would be by an astronomer mapping the moon.” – the face or a facial expression.
  • Location 1807: “To be honest, she gave me the fantods.” – A state of nervous irritability.
  • Location 1875: “As the last few stragglers made their way down the west staircase, I slipped quietly through the baize door, which opened into the northwest corner of the house, and by a roundabout trek, made my way to the east wing.” – An often bright-green cotton or woolen material napped to imitate felt and used chiefly as a cover for gaming tables.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. February 27, 2014 8:14 pm

    I really need to catch-up in this series!!

    • March 4, 2014 10:39 am

      Kailana – It’s also nice to have a list of unread books in reserve that you know you’ll probably enjoy!

  2. February 27, 2014 9:12 pm

    Absolutely spot-on! I loved this book, and I loved your review. I felt much the same about the mystery, but still enjoy Flavia no matter what.

    • March 4, 2014 10:40 am

      Annette – Really, thinking back on it, the only book in which the mystery has really held equal weight as the rest of the story is the first one.

  3. March 1, 2014 10:41 am

    I never loved the first book – no idea why so I had not continued with them… maybe I need to try again :)

    • March 4, 2014 10:41 am

      Sheila – Nah, if you didn’t click with Flavia then I wouldn’t feel the need to push on.

  4. March 1, 2014 1:31 pm

    You are so inspiring when it comes to reading series! And I am hanging my head extra low in this instance, because I have only made Flavia’s acquaintance in passing. I’m even further “behind” than usual with this series, since it’s now complete IIRC.

    • March 4, 2014 10:42 am

      BiP – I’ve heard conflicting things about whether the series is complete, or is going to be 10 books, or is open ended, or what. This book is definitely a turning point, but one that could serve as a stopping point if Bradley does decide to leave it there.

  5. March 1, 2014 10:48 pm

    I have a complicated relationship with this series though I mostly love it. I get torn between finding the 11 year old Flavia hilarious and just wanting her to grow up. I thought perhaps the series would end after this 6th book, but do you think it will continue and will Flavia actually be allowed to age? Glad it is a good wrap up to the family stuff which I agree is the most interesting part of the books.

    • March 4, 2014 10:43 am

      Stephanie – I had similar problems with some of the middle books – I didn’t immediately realize that they were happening so close together, so Flavia was 11 the whole time.

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