If Agatha Christie and P. G. Wodehouse had had a child, that child might have been mystery-writer Alan Bradley. However, Bradley’s puzzle-solving protagonist is no twinkly Miss Marple or shimmering Jeeves, but hyperkinetic Flavia de Luce, who returns in The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, the sixth installment of Bradley’s award-winning mystery series.
Flavia is an 11-year-old amateur detective and chemist with a combustible imagination and a predilection for poisons. Daughter of the intrepid Harriet de Luce, who went missing while on expedition in Tibet in the final years of WWII, Flavia lives with her bereaved father and two older sisters on the family’s down-at-the-heels estate outside the English country village of Bishops Lacy. The Dead opens with Harriet’s return—in a coffin, sadly—and despite grief over her mother’s death, Flavia sets out to discover who killed Harriet—and who pushed the mysterious stranger under the wheels of Harriet’s funeral train. In the process, Flavia learns not only about her parents but also about airplanes, photography, Winston Churchill, the war, and obscure departments of the British government.
This little mystery—more a “wacky” than a “cozy”—is fast-paced and lighthearted. But having written a half-dozen of these books, Bradley appear to be running out of ideas. I’m happy to report, however, that the ending of this installment points Flavia in new directions, which promises new ideas for new adventures.