I've been spinning out the last few pages of The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, the concluding* volume in Alan Bradley's terrific Flavia de Luce series, because I didn't want it to end. If you are already a fan of the books, you will not be disappointed with this one, and if you haven't yet discovered them then get hold of the first, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and take it from there - they are so original and such fun!
I'm not going to divulge anything about what happens in Book VI because to reveal a fact or two would be to give away more than I'd like, but let's just say that - following on from yesterday's post - the loose ends are all neatly knotted, and we now know a great deal more about what is really what in Flavia's world than we did before. Sorry to be so cryptic, but I don't want to spoil a moment's reading for anyone.
The series as a whole is just a delight with our very unusual heroine, the precocious, quick-witted, pigtailed eleven-year-old sleuth and master chemist (and expert in poisons), and the beautifully rendered 1950s English village setting. Flavia lives at Buckshaw, a vast and crumbling manor house, the ancestral home of uncertain future which she shares with her father and two older sisters, but more often than not she's to be found hurtling about the lanes on her trusty bicycle Gladys, keeping a keen eye on whatever is going on in and around the village of Bishop's Lacey.
Having had no formal education other than that provided by a series of unsatisfactory governesses, Flavia is an auto-didact, her knowledge of chemistry a product of many hours spent in Great Uncle Tarquin's laboratory in Buckshaw's abandoned east wing. She has pored over his notebooks and carries out her own experiments with an innate curiosity and an admirable degree of resourcefulness, and even for this non-scientist, that aspect of the books is another source of richness.
Flavia's family situation is one reason why the young girl has acquired the investigative habit - both in and out of the lab - for hers is an emotionally distant household. Her father is a broken man following the loss of his wife in a climbing accident in Tibet some ten years earlier, and his older daughters are perpetually at war with their younger sibling. Bluff Aunt Felicity intervenes on occasion, Colonel de Luce's manservant Dogger holds a watching brief and is usually to be relied upon in a tight spot, but for the most part, Flavia is left to her own devices and so her childhood has been far from conventional.
There are blackly comic episodes and moments of great poignancy, but it's Flavia's breezy style, encyclopedic knowledge, and touching independence of spirit which propel the books and make them such a tonic to read.
*Alan Bradley has created something special here, and so I'm very pleased to see that Sam Mendes and Neal Street Productions (the company behind Call the Midwife) have optioned the TV rights to the books with production in conjunction with the BBC, and that there are to be four more novels which "will allow exploration of other parts of [Flavia's] world", so we haven't reached the end after all. Hurrah!