Flavia de Luce is still only 11 years old in this sixth Alan Bradley mystery and if I count correctly it's only about a year since the first book in the series, Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, which takes place in 1950. That book surprised me with its engaging heroine, a skilled chemist and a talented sleuth. Could Bradley keep Flavia delightfully fresh and find murders intriguing enough to engage her and the reader?
He could and he has done so. Each book has introduced new characters in and around the town of Bishop's Lacey and each has deepened our interest in the de Luce family. Flavia's father continues to be a wounded widower who struggles more hopelessly in each story to keep Buckshaw, the family estate, from crumbling, and to support his daughters.
We have learned more about Dogger, the wise man of all work around Buckshaw, who has an unbreakable tie with Flavia's father. We discover clues in each mystery about his background and connection with the family. We meet Aunt Felicity, a somewhat formidable woman who will have a great influence on Flavia's life.
And in this volume, The Dead in their Vaulted Arches, everything comes together. We learn about Flavia's mother, Harriet, and why and how she disappeared in the Himalayas. We gain some insight into why Flavia's sisters dislike her so much. The problem of money is resolved and the ongoing story takes a new turn.
The Dead in their Vaulted Arches begins at a railroad station when a stranger falls in front of a train. Or was he pushed? Flavia would like to solve that mystery but she is busy with family events that are complicated by the unexpected visit of a hitherto unknown relative, Lena, and her bratty but extremely entertaining daughter, Undine. Flavia has found some undeveloped film in a movie camera and she uses her chemistry skills to rig a darkroom and develop previously unseen pictures of her mother.
Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce mysteries are, with the possible exception of C C Benison's Father Tom Christmas series, the freshest and most entertaining mysteries of recent years. Do yourself a favor: start with the first book and read all six. They take two to three hours each to read. They are reasonable in price, especially in e-reader format. They are delightful and this volume with its important turning point in the series is unusually rewarding. There's even an appearance of Harriet's Gypsey Moth, Blithe Spirit. Irresistible.