Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Review - Alan Bradley's The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia De Luce Book 6) by Alan Bradley
ARC Provided by the Publisher
Published by: Delacorte Press
Publication Date: January 14th, 2014
Format: Hardcover, 336 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

Harriet is returning to Buckshaw. Buckshaw, the home of the de Luce's for not much longer as it is to be sold. With Harriet comes all the other de Luce's. Cousins young and old that Flavia has never met. Considering Flavia doesn't get along with her own siblings, she doesn't hold out much hope for this lot either. But having the family returning and seeing each other for the first time in years means that things that have been buried, old family secrets, rivalries, bodies, including that new one under the train who whispered to Flavia before his demise, all of it could be unearthed by a skilled sleuth who has had a little practice, which she would easily say and even crow about if it didn't annoy the others so much. Flavia is sure something is afoot, and she will figure it out and play God if she is given half a chance.

Originally the Flavia de Luce series was to end with The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. Luckily, we fans of the series won't have to result to weeping and wailing, pulling out hair and gnashing our teeth because Alan Bradley's contract was extended to include two more books. Sweet relief! Yet there is a nice sense of closure in The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches. We get the denouement he had originally planned to be the culmination of the series, which ends with just the right note and doesn't go in for unrealistic surprises, but we also get a glimpse into what Flavia's future will hold and where the books will go from here.

With the fate of Buckshaw decided and the mystery of Harriet resolved, we get the closure that both us as readers and Flavia as our favorite little precocious poisoner have needed since The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Yet just having all the strings tied together and handed to us in a neat little bow, while giving us closure, wouldn't have given us the depth and intrigue we have come to expect in Bradley's books. Bradley shows us this world of spies and secrets that has always been there, lurking beneath the surface, but never obvious enough to spoil the big reveal. A family as intelligent and as well connected as the de Luce's would be a perfect fit to become government agents, Flavia's governess was teaching her substitution cyphers at a rather young age as it happens. Why else would Winston Churchill show up at Buckshaw for Harriet's return and tell Flavia the cryptic phrases "Pheasant Sandwiches." The book was just delicious with secrets and spies and it made me feel like I was watching the perfection of the first season of The Hour, where you don't know where anyone stands and in a moment your whole world will be upset. In fact, Flavia's world is about to be turned upside down.

While The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches feels like we have reached some sort of endgame, by bringing in the spies and the fact that the Cold War is just beginning in 1951, it feels as if Bradley is securing the longevity of the series by switching gears. Old plots have been wrapped up in order to start anew. By showing the true history of the de Luce's Bradley is setting Flavia center stage for the Cold War. Her genius and her penchant for solving crimes is exactly the kind of genius needed to fight the fight that is to come. Because of all these revelations we see that Flavia herself has changed. She has grown and matured. She realizes that her sisters taunts and jabs were not because she wasn't one of them, but because she was the most like the rest. Daffy and Feely were really the odd ducks out all along. Flavia is the one to carry on the family legacy into this new era.

All this soul searching and revelations make The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches a more intimate novel then in past. While it is the world outside that is at risk, it is what happens within the family, within Flavia, that matters most. There is a shift in Flavia, she is growing up and being able to see herself and her actions from the point of view of others. This insight turns her world on it's head. The way Flavia is even written has changed subtly. For the first time I can remember she makes references to the future and speaks as if what is happening is not in the present but that she is looking back. I will be sad to see this old Flavia go, but I am excited to continue on this journey with her. Though for those who might miss her precocious ways, the introduction of Undine might be a palliative... that's if she doesn't turn into the cousin Oliver of the series.


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