Alan Bradley's eleven-year-old, soon-to-be twelve-year-old, detective, the delightful Flavia de Luce is back in her fifth case and she is just as irrepressible as ever.
The village of Bishop's Lacey is busily preparing to open the tomb of its patron saint, St. Tancred, and no one is more excited about the prospect of peering into the crypt than Flavia. She contrives to be present at the opening but the proceedings are cut short when Flavia discovers the body of the church organist, Mr. Collicutt. The man had been missing for several weeks and obviously has been dead for all that time. Almost as inexplicable as being found dead in a saint's tomb, Collicutt is wearing a gas mask! What does it all mean? Who would want to kill the church organist? And how did the murderer(s) transport him into a closed crypt? Flavia, of course, is determined to find out.
And so we get to follow the young detective around the village as she interviews people without them knowing they are being interviewed and gathers clues for the denouement. We learn quite a lot about the village and about how villages conspire to keep secrets. We also learn that it is very hard to keep secrets from a precocious and curious child.
As Flavia and her bicycle Gladys make their rounds and we are privy to Flavia's thoughts, we begin, perhaps, to get a glimmer of who the culprit might be, but there appear to be no clear clues. Moreover, we are made to wonder about the efficiency of the Bishop's Lacey constabulary when Flavia discovers a major clue that they had totally missed in their searches. Good thing for Inspector Hewitt that she is on the case.
One thing that endeared Flavia to me in this episode of her adventures was her rescue and adoption of a Buff Orpington hen named Esmeralda. As an admirer of that wonderful breed, I fully understood her impulse to save the hen!
Overall, this was another fun read from the pen - or word processor - of Bradley, but there were loose ends that annoyed me. Things like the detective/horticulturist who inexplicably turned up in town and befriended Flavia. What is he doing there? He didn't really seem to have much of a purpose in this story. Perhaps it was only meant to introduce him and he'll play some more significant role in a future book.
And what about the shadow hanging over the de Luce family home and the father's finances? Is he truly broke? Will the estate be sold? Nothing was resolved about this. We were just left hanging. Again, perhaps it is being left for a later book. Still, I do find it irritating not to have some resolution.
Flavia is such a charming creation, and yet she is eleven-years-old. She seems to have an extraordinary amount of freedom for even a precocious child of that age. And she seems to have no friends of her own or a similar age. And does she ever go to school?
Ah, well, fiction does require a suspension of disbelief at times and a willingness to enter into the spirit of the thing. Wandering the byways of Bishop's Lacey and exploring ancient cemeteries at two o'clock in the morning with Flavia de Luce and Gladys when the rest of the village is asleep in bed is really quite a hoot!