Quill & Quire
Flavia Sabina de Luce is mad about chemistry, loves poisons, and is not above dissolving her older sister’s pearls in acid as an act of revenge. Aged 11, she lives with two sisters, her distant and eccentric father, and a couple of retainers in an old manor house in post-Second World War England. She is also the narrator of the first in a planned series of detective novels by Alan Bradley. Flavia tells a pretty good tale. Late one night, she overhears her beloved father arguing with a red-haired man, and before morning she finds the stranger dying in the garden. Whipping around the countryside on her trusty bike, Gladys, she unravels this mystery, as well as others that the local police find puzzling. Is she Harriet the Spy morphed into a detective, or a plucky refugee from any number of British children’s books? Neither, it seems. Although the plot outline sounds like it would appeal to readers in the nine-to-12 age range, Flavia and the series are intended primarily for the adult market. Evidently, the hope is that Flavia will enchant readers the way another unlikely heroine, Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, has. Bradley succeeds in making Flavia’s passion for chemistry believable, but the first part of the book creaks a bit, and the cliff-hangers at the end of each chapter are overdone. An early chapter closes: “Father bent down for a closer look, then gave a little gasp. And suddenly he was clutching at his throat, his hands shaking like aspen leaves in autumn, his face the colour of sodden ashes.” A few pages later, the police inspector says ominously, “Flavia … I’d like a word with you. Inside.” This heavy-handedness may make some readers cross, but those who enjoy a nice puzzle mystery are advised to keep reading. Flavia is a smart girl who figures things out impressively. Whether she’ll also charm a world of adult readers remains to be seen.
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'Set in 1950 this has the lightest of touches and a joyful intent to entertain. There's more than sufficient plot to keep you listening as Emilia Fox brings Flavia to delightful life.' (Friday 21 May) -- Kati Nicholl DAILY EXPRESS
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