"I had concocted the gunpowder myself from nitre, sulphur, charcoal, and a happy heart. When working with explosives, I've found that attitude is everything."
That's a typical Flavia line, and that vivacity is one of the things which make Alan Bradley's delightful mystery novels so appealing. Their heroine is an 11-year-old sleuth who also happens to be a master chemist and expert in poisons - not as far-fetched as it sounds when you consider that this very precocious child has grown up in an eccentric English household in the 1950s; motherless, and with an emotionally distant father and older sisters who practise their beastliness on her, Flavia has found an ally in the resourceful manservant, Dogger, and solace in the experiments she carries out in her great-uncle Tarquin's beautifully equipped laboratory - something she has fallen heir to in the otherwise cold and crumbling Buckshaw, the imposing family home.
In I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, the latest book in the series which began with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, the de Luce family finances are in their usual parlous state and so Buckshaw has been let to a film crew for location shooting; as the village gathers for a charity performance given by the film's leading lady, the famous actress Phyllis Wyvern, so a snowfall leaves everyone stranded at the big house, a murder occurs and Flavia has a particularly 'sticky' Christmas experiment to carry out.
Lots of fun, lots of spirited dialogue and action, lots of brio; still the tantalising back story concerning Flavia's late mother Harriet, still the engaging situational plot, although the individual murder mystery is more a vehicle for the characters - Flavia especially - rather than a gripping strand in its own right. These books are lovely period pieces and they have a freshness and originality about them which has earned them a loyal following; readers respond to Flavia's idealism, her keen sense of justice, her vivid imagination and intelligence, and are intrigued by the family's own story and the greater history of the de Luce home. All these elements combine to make them a treat of a read.
Edited to add: Do pop over and have a look at the illustrations of Jonathan Burton, the book's jacket designer.