Sat
Jan 26 2013 10:00am

Fresh Meat: Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley

Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley is the fifth book in the historical mystery series featuring preteen protagonist Flavia de Luce (available January 29, 2013).

When the tomb of St. Tancred is opened at a village church in Bishop’s Lacey, its shocking contents lead to another case for Flavia de Luce. Greed, pride, and murder result in old secrets coming to light—along with a forgotten flower that hasn’t been seen for half a thousand years.

With Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley, I took my first look at the Flavia de Luce series. Set in 1950s England, these historical cozies feature an unusual detective: Flavia is only eleven years old, or possibly twelve, and she has a deep and passionate love of poisons. That seems to go along with her general love of the macabre and of experimenting in her dead uncle’s chemistry lab. Speaking from Among the Bones is fifth in the series; if you’re a fan already, you should know that some new information about Flavia’s mother is related in this installment.

The books are set in the village of Bishop’s Lacey, which seems to be fairly isolated, making it easier for Flavia to jaunt around unobserved on her bicycle, which she has named Gladys. She lives with her father, who is retired from the British army and spends all his time mentally buried in his stamp collection; her two older sisters who do not in the least share her interests; the gardener and general handyman Dogger, who suffers from having been a prisoner of war; and a housekeeper whose terrible cooking provides an interesting commentary on Flavia’s chemical experiments.

I very much enjoyed Flavia’s jaunty first-person narration and the cheerful oddity of her interests.

“Here—let me,” I said, taking the torch from his hands. …They were all so astonished, I think, that nobody tried to stop me. My head went easily in through the gaping crack, and, like a contortionist, I maneuvered the light until it was beaming into the tomb from over my head. A cold, dank draft brushed at my face, and I wrinkled my nose at the sharp, brackish stink of ancient decay. I was looking into a small stone chamber of perhaps seven feet long and three wide. The first thing I saw was a human hand, its dried fingers tightly clutching a bit of broken glass tubing. And then the face—a ghastly, inhuman mask with enormous, staring acetate eyes and a piggish rubber snout. Beneath it was a white ruffle, not quite covering the ink-black vessels of the neck and throat. Above the eyes was a shock of curly golden choirboy hair. This was most definitely not the body of Saint Tancred. I turned off the torch, withdrew my head, and turned slowly to the vicar.

… the man was dead. There was no getting round that. While part of me wanted to break down and cry at the death of Feely’s golden-haired Prince Charming, another part—a part I couldn’t quite explain—was awakening eagerly from a deep sleep. I was torn between revulsion and pleasure—like tasting vinegar and sugar at the same time. But pleasure, in such cases, always wins. Hands down. A hidden part of me was coming back to life.

…I’d spent a good many hours poring over the pages of Taylor’s Principles and Practice of Medical Jurisprudence, whose photographically illustrated volumes I had been fortunate enough to find hidden away on a high shelf in the stacks of the Bishop’s Lacey Free Library.

With its preteen heroine, Speaking from Among the Bones would likely be of interest to Middle Grade and Young Adult readers. It was just as satisfying to me as an adult. Along with the nostalgic aspect of the historical setting, it’s a lot of fun to see what it might be like to have the sort of childhood freedom that Flavia experiences, coupled with her unusual intelligence and sense of self-worth. It’s the kind of fantasy childhood one can only experience within the pages of a book. Given that the story ends on somewhat of a cliffhanger, I’m eager to see where Flavia goes and what she does next!

See more coverage of new releases in our Fresh Meat series.


Victoria Janssen is the author of three novels and numerous short stories.  Her World War I-set Spice Brief, “Under Her Uniform”, is a tie-in to her novel The Moonlight Mistress. Follow her on Twitter: @victoriajanssen or find out more at victoriajanssen.com.

Read all posts by Victoria Janssen for Criminal Element.

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