I was first introduced to Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce Mysteries a few years ago when I organized a book club reading mostly juvenile and young adult books. One month, we read the first installment, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.
I liked it enough that I added the next installment to my reading list. Now, book #7 is set to be released on January 6, 2015. I was able to get an advanced review copy through Edelweiss, so I determined to get caught up so that I could review the entire series in one post!
This is a series of books that really ought to be read in order, especially the later installments. Set in 1950's England, these mysteries are led by young Flavia de Luce, a budding chemist and amateur detective. Flavia has a penchant for discovering dead bodies, and an incredible talent for analyzing the details and solving the mystery.
Flavia is surrounded by a great cast of characters. She lives at Buckshaw with her father, Colonel Haviland de Luce, and her sisters Ophelia (Feely) and Daphne (Daffy). The household servants, Mrs. Mullett and Dogger, also play important roles throughout the series, as does Flavia bicycle Gladys. Through Flavia's adventures (or misadventures), the reader also becomes acquainted with the local townspeople.
Bradley does excellent character description. He also helps the reader feel a wonderful sense of place. By the second or third novel, the reader can really picture the setting in and around Buckshaw and Bishop's Lacey.
The earlier novels would stand on their own fairly well, containing their own individual mysteries, but beginning in the 5th installment, a larger mystery begins to unfold around Flavia.
Here are my brief thoughts about each novel:
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (#1)
Here the reader is introduced to all the major characters at play in the series. We become familiar with Flavia's family dynamic and get a decent amount of background story from Colonel de Luce when he is in dire straits. Bradley does a decent job of balancing the need to provide background with the need to keep the reader engaged in the present mystery.
The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (#2)
Things take a dark turn in the second installment and Flavia is able to solve the mystery surrounding not one, but two deaths. This novel helps expand Flavia's world beyond her own village of Bishop's Lacey and introduces some important characters, while more fully developing some of the characters that reappear throughout the series.
A Red Herring Without Mustard (#3)
This time, Flavia befriends a gypsy woman and later finds her beaten within an inch of her life. As she works to uncover the truth surrounding this attack, Flavia finds herself caught up in a bigger mystery than she realized, including a counterfeiting ring and a religious cult. She eventually uncovers an important truth about her own identity. This novel helps to begin setting the stage for the revelations that are still to come surrounding Flavia's mother.
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (#4)
As Colonel de Luce finds himself in danger of losing his home (due to legal and financial difficulties), he agrees to hire out Buckshaw at Christmastime for the making of a film. The house is invaded by the cast and crew, and naturally, a death quickly follows. Flavia is determined to uncover the killer, but still finds time to devise an elaborate scheme to discover the truth about Father Christmas once and for all.
Speaking From Among the Bones (#5)
The upcoming exhumation of Bishop Lacey's own Saint Tancred draws Flavia into the tombs below the church, where a body is discovered -- just not the right one. Flavia is on the case, but it turns out that she is not the only one. Solving this mystery involves solving several, and ends with a shocking revelation about Flavia's family.
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (#6)
Following close on the heels of #5, this novel begins not long after Flavia learns of the discovery of her long-lost mother. This novel works to expand the larger mystery surrounding Flavia's parents and brings big changes to the de Luce family, resulting in Flavia being sent to Canada for school. This novel works quite well to portray Flavia's sadness, frustration, and confusion.
As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (#7)
This latest addition to the series was my favorite so far. Flavia is sent to Canada to attend Miss Bodycote's Female Academy and on her first night at school, discovers a body in most mysterious circumstances. As she works to solve the mystery, she also has to navigate her new environment, new characters, and new secrets.
All in all, I think this series has been wonderful. The books are not classified as "juvenile," but are still clean enough for anyone to enjoy. Bradley does an excellent job of building suspense, hinting at clues, and leading the reader through each mystery. I can't wait for the next one!