Alan Bradley’s fifth novel in his engrossing Flavia de Luce series begins with the graphic image of blood dripping from the freshly severed head of John the Baptist, setting the stage for the certainly the bloodiest (and decomposing body-est) adventure for Flavia yet. As always, the reader is hooked from that first shocking image, and we plunge head-first with Flavia into her fifth murder investigation in less than a year.
I have read this series from the beginning, and, though I have thoroughly enjoyed all of them, I found Speaking from Among the Bones to be an overall return to form of the first book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The mystery revolves around the murder of Mr. Collicutt, the organist at Bishop Lacey’s church, and the opening of the tomb of St. Tancred in the church’s crypt. Much of the story takes place in the cemetery and crypt, and at times Flavia is literally speaking from among the bones and blood. But, with his typical flare and care, Bradley deftly handles the gore not as a gratuitous gross-out but as an integral and effectively used element of his plot. Additionally, several of the usual cast of quirky characters, along with a few new ones, alternately aid and hinder Flavia’s self-appointed investigation, including an aging soprano, an old scientist friend of her father’s, and the ever lovely Vicar Richardson.
Most importantly, though, is the relationship between Flavia and her family: her father; her sisters, Feely and Daffy; and their hired help, Mrs. Mullet and Dogger. The family’s deteriorating fortunes and the effects that has on their evolving relationships has always been the heart of the stories and the thread that ties the books together, elevating the series from a more modern and masterful Nancy Drew re-imagining, to lovely pieces of mystery literature. Here the characters gain even more depth as their relationships deepen in complexity, much to the pain, confusion, and at times delight of our intrepid heroine.
Additionally, Bradley’s style appeals to readers of many ages and levels. One of the joys of his Flavia books have always been the fully-realized and realistic nature of his 11 year old heroine combined with a writing style that is sophisticated, complex, witty, and interesting.
My one complaint this time around is that the solution to the mystery seemed more rushed and pat than usual. It was as if Bradley had a page limit in mind and was trying to complete the story within the assigned parameters. The explanation was satisfying enough, but the build-up lacked some of Bradley’s usual masterful suspense and was over in an uncharacteristic flash. The final twist of the book, however, was shockingly and satisfyingly complete, leaving me yelling in disbelief and desperate for the next installment of the adventures of my favorite poison-loving 11-year-old. If you have not started the series, start at the beginning with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. You will not be disappointed!