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by Alan Bradley
Doubleday Canada, November 2011
288 pages
$29.99 CAD
ISBN: 0385668090

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

In this fourth encounter with the charmingly eccentric and decidedly intrepid Flavia de Luce, she is still eleven years old and still happy to investigate what mysteries come her way (which they do with alarming frequency, as tends to happen in the traditional cosy). It is Christmas and, in order to make a bit of much-needed cash, Buckshaw, the mouldering family home, has been let as a location for a film starring Phyllis Wyvern, the glamourous and apparently indestructible film star. She is so stellar that even Flavia's nasty older sisters, Daffy and Feely, have heard of her and are suitably impressed.

But before the star even shows her nose, Flavia is concerned with another prospective visitor - Father Christmas. She is determined to test his existence, once and for all, by setting an elaborate trap on the Buckshaw roof, hoping to catch the wily old elf red-handed as he tries to descend a Buckshaw chimney. Her traps, of course, require some sophisticated chemistry, Flavia's strong suit, to accomplish. If the combination of a lingering belief in Santa and a knowledge of how effectively to combine seriously toxic chemical substances seems hard to square, then clearly this is the first time you've met Flavia.

In due course, what happens in traditional country house mysteries in winter comes to pass. An isolating snow storm, a murder, elaborately staged, a police inspector exasperated by an amateur sleuth who fails to understand her own danger (and, it might be added, the rules of evidence), and a thrilling conclusion in a life and death struggle in the frost and snow.

But frankly, you don't read this series for the mysteries. They are serviceable enough, but the puzzle is not the main attraction. Flavia is, in all her infuriating contradictions, her self-confidence and moments of bleak despair, her vulnerability and her refusal to give in to threat.

I cannot think of a happier choice of gift either for a bright ten-year-old or for someone now grown up or even old who remembers the magic of those books that freed us from the ordinary world of adults and school to take absurd and glorious risks in the pursuit of truth.

Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, December 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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