I have been an avid follower of Flavia de Luce since the first book featuring her, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. This latest entry into the Flavia series retains the charm and uncanny cleverness of Flavia’s character but limps a little bit in the storyline.
If you haven’t read any of the series, please acquaint yourself with them now! Delightful, funny, curious and mysterious, Flavia is an 11-year-old with an adult’s wisdom when it comes to poisons and potions but a naďve child of the 1950s, dreaming of ways to trap Father Christmas to prove he is real and plotting against her two older sisters who remain the bane of her life.
Times are hard, money is tight, and to keep the family manse from toppling down around their ears, Flavia’s absent-minded, philately-oriented father has hired out Buckshaw to a film crew at Christmas time. While sisters Daphne and Ophelia (Daffy and Feely) hope not for sugar plums but for acting roles, Flavia is enamored of the behind-the-scenes goings-on.
The same personable retainers appear in this fourth entry to the Flavia series: Dogger, her father’s former batman during the war, and Mrs. Mullet, the family cook/housekeeper with her bizarre recipes and outlook on life. Aunt Felicity makes an appearance as well, and some of the family secrets get an airing. The Colonel (Flavia’s father) keeps to his study and his stamps. There are no real revelations about his personality and his past to be had, but the rest of the family moves around his shadowy presence with their own life stories.
The murder doesn’t happen until halfway through the book; personally, I would be a bit worried about visiting Buckshaw, given that there have been several murders there. Perhaps it is time to take Flavia further afield? The corpse this time is one of the players in the movie being filmed, and her death brings Flavia’s talents to the fore. Prowling around the house and teasing her way into the police investigation, she proves herself once again to be intrepid and Nancy Drew-like in her appreciation of the finer points of murder.
Flavia, her time period (post-WWII 1950s), and her family provide a constant source of amusement, education and entertainment. The delights of Bradley’s use of ‘50s British slang, a classic winter blizzard, and the dingbat characters who comprise “the locals” all add up to a really fun read.
The ending seems a little rushed, but all of the uniqueness and charm that is Flavia is present and lives up to expectations. No one has aged in the four books in this series. I may be that Flavia will remain perpetually 11, like a first-year Harry Potter, yet the writing is outstanding, and each book makes you eager for the next.