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by Alan Bradley
Doubleday Canada, January 2014
320 pages
$29.95 CAD
ISBN: 0385668155

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This sixth in the Flavia de Luce series begins just a week after number five ended. SPEAKING FROM AMONG THE BONES concluded with the astonishing announcement that Harriet de Luce, Flavia's mother and missing for a decade or more, has been found. Now the family is gathered to await Harriet's return. A special train has been laid on for the occasion and on the station platform a strange man approaches Flavia and delivers a cryptic message to be relayed to her father: "Tell him that the Gamekeeper is in jeopardy...and the Nide is under...." Flavia's older sister interrupts before she can learn more and minutes later, the stranger is under the wheels of the train and dead - perhaps murdered.

Ordinarily, Flavia would have devoted all her attention to discovering why the man died and what his message meant, but she has a lot on her mind at the moment. This is not to suggest that she has lost interest in chemical experimentation or in the properties of various poisons - far from it - but she is suddenly aware that she is beginning to leave childhood behind and she is becoming far more self-conscious as well as self-aware in consequence. She understands that her behaviour reflects not only on herself but also on her family and she behaves less recklessly as a result. She is fond of reminding the reader that she is not-quite-twelve, an age she evidently views as a watershed moment separating childhood from adolescence.

There are other and darker reasons for the change in Flavia, but to reveal them would be to destroy the pleasure of discovery for the reader. Nevertheless, it is enough to say THE DEAD IN THEIR VAULTED ARCHES is a more subtle book than earlier ones in the series, as well as more rueful and more touching. Alan Bradley may be in his mid-seventies but he clearly can both recall and evoke that bittersweet sense of loss many feel when they remember their younger, more innocent selves.

Reading this book, I began to get the feeling that the author might be about to abandon his original plan to produce ten adventures for Flavia. Perhaps, I thought, the strain of maintaining his heroine at a single age was beginning to tell, perhaps he was beginning to find Bishop's Lacey too confining a venue for his elaborate puzzles. But just as I was bracing for the end, Bradley exercised one of his brilliant feats of misdirection and concluded on a stunning note, one that is sure to have readers anxiously awaiting the next chapter in Flavia's remarkable career.

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

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, January 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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