Sunday, February 4, 2018

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley: Reading Room Review

Flavia de Luce is one of the best characters to come along in mystery fiction. I've been hooked on this precocious eleven, now twelve-year-old, since the first book in the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Flavia's brilliant mind in chemistry and solving murders has filled each book with a magical presence. The setting, largely at her rundown family estate Buckshaw outside of the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey in the 1950s adds charm to the quirky stories of murder and deceit in which Flavia seems to find herself. And, then the last book, Thrice the Branded Cat Hath Mew'd, placed the series in a seemingly darker than usual place where readers were looking to the current book, The Grave's a Fine and Private Place, to answer questions of what was to become of Flavia and her two tormenting sisters, Feely and Daffy, and the rest of the endearing household. Of course, no reader expects all her questions to be answered, but I very much needed a sense of direction from The Grave's a Fine and Private Place. I can't say that this was a favorite book in the series for me, but I do think Flavia grew up a lot in this book and is in a good place to take control of her destiny back into her own hands. It felt like a necessary book, to advance the direction of those characters we've come to love who reside at Buckshaw. 

As so many of Flavia's adventures do, this one starts with a dead body, when Flavia makes quite a catch from the river on which she, her sisters, and Dogger are boating while on vacation. The oddly dressed man who is the victim appears to have drowned, or at least to the unpracticed eye of murder and mayhem, but Flavia, along with Dogger, immediately begin to have suspicions and gather evidence to disabuse the coroner's pronouncement of accidental drowning. Of course, rarely does the case rest on the murder of one victim and one set of secrets. Their discovery has landed the group in St.-Mildred's-in-the-Marsh and almost at the door of the church where two years earlier the presiding priest poisoned three elderly women attending communion. And, the victim Flavia brings to shore on their landing turns out to be the adult son of that "Poisoning Parson." 

As Flavia, Feely, Daffy, and Dogger are all witnesses to the discovery of the dead man, they are required to stay in St. Mildred's-in-the-Marsh while the constable tidies up his report, but also for Flavia's own purposes of investigating what she and Dogger are labeling murder. The characters of this sleepy little hamlet have much to reveal about themselves and the events of the past two years. In the course of their stay and scrutinizing the facts, Flavia makes a new friend in the undertaker's son, and Dogger reconnects with a lady friend, who seems aware of his history and troubles. Flavia will come as close to a killer and being a victim herself as she ever has in this latest quest for truth and justice. Her rescuer will surprise all.

I didn't think I was going to like this book at first, which was a huge disappointment to me as a Flavia super fan. And, as I said, while it might not be my favorite in the series, I ended up appreciating it on many levels. People grow up and so are the characters in this series, and Alan Bradley gives us a maturation that is most satisfying in the characters of Flavia, Feely, and Daffy. And, how pleased I was to have the spotlight shine on Dogger and in turn on his and Flavia's relationship. Life is moving on, and everyone must choose their paths. And, that was the most satisfying part of the book, that Flavia finally starts coming into her own and realizing that she does have a say. 

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