You all know by now my love of Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series. Flavia continues to enchant in her own delightful, slightly ornery way, and the latest installment in her adventures maintains the high quality of the series. I must say, it was a wonderful respite to spend a few days with Flavia in the midst of some of the heavier reading I have planned. Not to say that Bradely’s series is fluff; a read of one of his books is simply a comfortable visit with old friends.
This time around I can’t really share much about the plot without divulging some major twists in the series. The best I can share regarding The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is that the mysterious murder, while still present, takes a back seat to the events surrounding the resolution (for lack of a better world) of a tremendous family tragedy. However, Bradley has crafted a remarkable through-story for each of Flavia’s brushes with murder which ultimately places the heart of her adventures firmly within her relationships and her family.
What impresses in this installment is the growth and increased depth of each of the main characters. Daffy, so often relegated to the almost caricature status of the bookworm, is given a moment of heartbreaking yet steely vulnerability, providing insight into her fractious relationship with Flavia for both us and Flavia herself. More of Dogger and Father’s mysterious pasts are revealed. Aunt Felicity, always presented as a slightly batty character, is revealed to be far more interesting and powerful than previously thought, and a fuller glimpse of the De Luce family backstory presents masterfully painted moments of depth, intrigue, suspense, and true love. Most importantly, Flavia, now closer to 12 than 11, shows signs of real maturity rather than the child-like understanding of maturity on which she prides herself. A particularly touching moment is when she finds an old family film of her sisters and her parents, before her mother’s disappearances, and finally sees a picture of the entire family, including herself, present in her mother’s belly.
Though some of the delightfully hair-raising suspense of the earlier books was missing in this one and the mystery seems almost perfunctory, the increased understanding of the De Luce past and present make up for all of that. Additionally, some enthralling and highly interesting revelations toward the end make me excited for the next chapter in Flavia’s ever eventful life. As always, please start at the beginning of the series with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie if you are not already a follower of Flavia’s adventures. For those of you who keep up with Flavia, though, I don’t think you will be disappointed.