Welcome to MURDER BY TYPE, a place to discuss mysteries and authors and the things that draw us to our favorite books. Is it location? Is it the type of protagonist? I am drawn to police procedurals and books with private or amateur investigators. Unfamiliar locations carry the plus of teaching about cultures and customs. Favorite authors include Leighton Gage, Timothy Hallinan, Cara Black, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Michael Stanley, Dan Waddell, Donna Leon, Libby Fischer Hellman, Martha Grimes, Kathy Reichs and the list goes on and on.
- Beth C.
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Today, a guest post by Maine Colonial – a terrific writer and recovering lawyer who enjoys reading traditional mysteries, police procedurals, espionage thrillers and Eurocrime.
11-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce returns in Alan Bradley’s series set in 1950s England. The de Luce family teeters on the edge of insolvency in a vast, down-at-heel country house, Buckshaw. Mother Harriet is long dead in a skiing accident, father Haviland is almost entirely absorbed in his stamp collection and older sisters Daphne and Ophelia disdain their younger sister.
This leaves Flavia with free rein to conduct elaborate and sometimes dangerous experiments in Buckshaw’s fully-equipped chemistry lab—-and to track down murderers when necessary. The necessity arises this time around when puppeteers Rupert Porson and his assistant Nialla arrive in town. Their performance of Jack and the Beanstalk electrifies all of Bishop’s Lacey, particularly when it results in a public death that Flavia soon identifies as murder.
Unlike the local police detectives, Flavia is able to go into every home and shop in Bishop’s Lacey to ask her questions without anyone suspecting that she is conducting an interrogation. Her inquisitive nature and understanding of human nature and even of chemistry allow her to solve the murder at the show and find out the real story behind a mysterious death from five years earlier.
Flavia’s own family is more of a mystery to her than the arcana of chemistry or the solutions to murder. She continues to try to find out what her mother was like, and makes some progress there when her imperious Aunt Felicity arrives for a visit.
This was an enjoyable followup to THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE. However, it was very slow starting, with not much other than Bradley’s amusing writing style to maintain one’s attention for the first one-third of the book. After that, though, the story got in gear and was engaging to the end. For those who enjoyed THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE, this is well worth reading. Anyone else who enjoys an old-fashioned mystery and who is open to the idea of a precocious young sleuth should also like this book. I don’t see any compelling need to read THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE first.
Audio note: I listened to the unabridged audio and the reader, Jayne Entwistle, didn’t fit the idea I had in mind of Flavia. Flavia has a lot of interior monologue that I had read as sarcastic in the first book. Entwistle reads it as much more humorous and good-natured. I prefer the sarcastic Flavia and will read, rather than listen to, the next entry in the series.