In the summer of 1950 in a small village in England, Flavia de Luce, a brilliant 11 year old chemist, is whiling away the day trying to find new poisons with which to torture her two older sisters. Her quirky but rather (in her mind) dull life takes a bizarre, frightening, and somewhat thrilling turn when she finds a man passing his last breath in the gardens of her family’s estate. After her father is charged with the murder, Flavia jumps into the role of amateur detective to solve the mystery.
The novel is filled with humor, some of it slightly dark, which I enjoyed. Flavia’s family members and the villagers she encounters are just as eccentric as she is, and add to the atmosphere of delight the author has crafted. I thought that the plot was a bit odd and improbable. There are long explanations of things from both Flavia’s father and villagers about past events that may or may not link to the murder. I felt that some of these speeches were slightly confusing, and the plot is extremely far-fetched. But, this book is not meant to be a serious mystery. It’s meant to be a fun entertaining ride that the reader hops onto and relishes through the end.
I have had this series on my “too read” list for quite some time. I greatly enjoyed Flavia, who is a precocious little genius, but still shows some of the childlike vulnerabilities of a girl her age. In a small town such as the one in this novel, many of the village secrets disclosed would most likely be out in the open… but perhaps not to an 11 year old girl, which is why Flavia’s age is important to the structure of the story; it allows the reader to discover things along with the young detective.
Beyond using the character’s age as a mere narrative device, 11 and 12 year olds are perched precariously on the bridge between being children and young adults, and the author did a marvelous job capturing this. The end effect is that the mystery also serves as Flavia’s coming-of-age story.
In an interview printed at the back of this book, the author Alan Bradley stated that he would not want to see Flavia as an older teen, and therefore he keeps her at the age of 11 or 12 throughout the series. I look forward to reading the next book and seeing where Bradley takes the characters. I particularly hope that Flavia’s older sisters are fleshed out a bit more because I think they could be more than just vapid teenage foils for their genius younger sibling.
I did read this one in print, but the audiobook is narrated by Jayne Entwistle, one of my favorite narrators. I listened to the sample and she does a marvelous job. She has narrated the other books in the series as well.
Find it on Amazon HERE
And on Audible HERE