I read Alan Bradley’s The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches in one sitting. It’s the sixth book in the Flavia de Luce series, and of course murder is involved – in this case, two. However, I won’t share too much with you or else I’ll spoil the first five books for anyone who hasn’t read them. Instead, I will tell you why I enjoy the series so much. I am usually attracted to a story because of its plot or the extraordinary prose or its underlying humanity. It’s much more rare for me to actually fall in love with a character, but that is the case with Flavia de Luce.
All of the books so far, have taken place in a small English village called Bishop’s Lacey during the 1950s. World War II has only recently ended, and the effects and reminders of the war linger. The village is full of quirky characters including the protagonist Flavia de Luce, her father Colonel de Luce, her older sisters Ophelia and Daphne, and the household staff Dogger and Mrs. Mullet. Harriet, Flavia’s mother, has been missing in the Himalayas since she was a baby.
A precocious eleven-year-old genius with a penchant for chemistry, especially poisons, and solving murder cases, Flavia de Luce is one of the most endearing characters I have ever met. The stories are told from Flavia’s perspective, and we are privy to the complex trajectory of her thoughts and emotions: bouncing from ecstatic recitations of chemical compositions to astute observations of her surroundings to her awareness of the subtle evolution in her closest relationships. She is smart enough to understand the rules of manipulation, innocent enough that empathy comes easily, and young enough to be forgiven for her many escapades.
Flavia is also a lonely child. Harriet was seemingly the heart of the happy family, and with her disappearance, each of them has retreated into his or her own world. There are the occasional awkward, sad and sweet scenes during the rare moments when Flavia does find a connection with her family. And in this manner, the de Luces muddle along in a fragile existence.
The murders (a surprising number for a small country village) provide opportunities for Flavia to exercise her wit and intelligence in discovering the who, how, and why of each incident. Flavia obviously enjoys the thrill of the chase and allows nothing to deter her sleuthing. We see Flavia at her best and at her worst (which really isn’t that bad) in her pursuit of the truth. She’s an imperfect and complex character and all the more lovable for it.
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is a pivotal point in the series and in the life of Flavia de Luce. On the cusp of turning twelve and standing at a crossroads, I can barely imagine what author Alan Bradley has in mind next for our protagonist. With another planned four books in the series, I look forward to catching up with Flavia in her next adventure.
If you have yet to make Flavia’s acquaintance, I suggest starting with the first book The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.
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