My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Alan Bradley's eleven-year-old (almost twelve, as she constantly reminds us) budding chemist/detective, Flavia de Luce, is a charming creation in one of the most innovative of recent cozy mystery series. In the sixth entry of the series, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, Flavia is still charming, but the plot seems a bit contrived and strained, and by halfway through the book, I just wanted to get it over with. Overall, I still rather enjoyed it - if I could give it two-and-a-half stars, I would, but since I can't, I'll opt for the more generous three stars - but it definitely was not one of my favorites.
There are two related mysteries for Flavia to solve this time. First, who pushed the man under the wheels of the moving train in the English village of Bishop's Lacey? Or was he pushed? Did he simply stumble and fall?
Second, the reason that all the village had turned out at the train station to meet the train was that Flavia's mother was coming home on it.
Actually, Flavia's mother's body was being sent home on it. Flavia's mother had died in a fall in the Himalayas ten years earlier and her body had just recently been found. The question now is, was her fall an accident or was she pushed?
It becomes evident that the sainted Harriet, Flavia's mother, was a spy for England and that she was on a mission at the time that she died. It seems very likely that her death was no accident, but how will Flavia ever prove that or find the person responsible for her death?
A few minutes before the death of the man at the railway station, he had whispered a cryptic message into Flavia's ear. Winston Churchill is also at the train station and he, too, speaks to Flavia using words that make no sense at the time. Later, when she finds some old film and develops it, it reveals her mother mouthing to the camera the same phrase used by Churchill. What is the connection? What is the meaning of that cryptic phrase?
Flavia, of course, is intrigued and must get to the bottom of the mystery, but meantime, she hatches a plan that she hopes will resurrect her dead mother who has been encased in ice for ten years. Yes, this eleven-year-old girl is convinced that she knows how to raise the dead, and she is determined to do it in order to put a smile on the face of her dour, tragically unhappy, and much-loved father. As I said, it all seems just a bit contrived and a stretch even for so imaginative a creature as Flavia.
In this book, we meet the same characters that we've come to know in previous series entries. The wonderful and mysterious (at least to Flavia) Dogger, the family's general factotum. Aunt Felicity, Flavia's father's sister, who it seems also had a role to play in the intelligence service of her country during World War II. Mrs. Mullet, the housekeeper/cook who keeps the family going through all manner of trials and tragedies. And, of course, the two older hated/loved sisters, Daphne (Daffy) and Ophelia (Feely), and all the villagers that Flavia regularly comes in contact with.
But here we also get introduced to a couple of new de Luce family members, cousin Lena and her young daughter, Undine. Undine seems a very precocious child in the same mold as Flavia and I suspect we will be seeing much more of her in future books.
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