Mystery Books for Sale

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by Alan Bradley
Doubleday Canada, February 2013
345 pages
$29.95 CAD
ISBN: 0385668120

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Like Midsomer and Cabot Cove, Bishop's Lacey produces an alarming number of corpses. As Flavia de Luce, who is about to turn twelve, reflects, she's stumbled across four in the past year - "One more corpse and I'll have a full hand," she says, counting on her fingers. Needless to say, number five shows up promptly, this time the church organist whose body, face shrouded in a gas mask, is discovered in the newly-opened tomb of Saint Tancred in the village church.

Saint Tancred is about to be unearthed because it is his quincentennial - five hundred years since he died in 1451. There doesn't seem to be any other reason to disturb his bones, unless it's to get a look at his crozier, buried with him and reputed to have been set with a spectacularly valuable diamond. This last is of particular interest to the de Luce family, who might be able to claim a financial interest in it. If so, it would be, as it were, a godsend, as they are on the brink of losing Buckshaw, the home where the family has resided at least as long as Saint Tancred, to the bailiffs and His Majesty's revenue agents.

It is this threat that preoccupies Flavia's attention. Not that she neglects either her chemistry or her sleuthing, far from it, but she fiercely loves both her family (even her impossible elder sisters) and Buckshaw. The prospect of losing the lot, especially as she is hovering on the verge of adolescence, is terrifying.

This fifth in the series strikes me as rather darker than those that precede it. True, it has, if anything, an even more outrageously convoluted plot than earlier books, accompanied by a bizarrely-motivated set of potential murderers. And certainly Flavia is at the top of her form - incorrigibly dogged, brilliantly resourceful, she remains the touching mix of vulnerable motherless child and arrogant precocity that she's always been. But change is in the air and not change for the better. Her father has retreated even further behind his philatelist magazines, from which he emerges only rarely. Her sister, the annoying Ophelia, is engaged to be married, though it takes all of Flavia's deductive skills to winkle out who is the lucky fiancé, and the equally annoying middle sister, Daphne, turns suddenly affectionate, if only for a moment. Then there is the "For Sale" sign on the lawn to worry about.

Originally, I believe, there were to be six books in the series, which would mean that this is the next-to-last. It may be the knowledge of the impending end of this particular and precious literary life that casts its shadow over the book. On the other hand, the spectacular success of the Flavia de Luce series may encourage Alan Bradley to take his heroine past the age of eleven. Either way, SPEAKING FROM AMONG THE BONES is not to be missed. And the bombshell dropped on the last page will ensure that readers will be lining up for number six the moment it leaves the presses.

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

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, January 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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