Speaking from Among the Bones is Alan Bradley’s fifth novel featuring the wonderful Flavia de Luce. Flavia’s intelligence, her passion for chemistry (particularly poisons), and the fact that she is still only eleven years old makes her one of the most fascinating and unusual detectives in fiction. The series is set in the 1950s in the small English village of Bishop’s Lacey where Flavia lives with her father and two sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, at the family’s ancestral home, Buckshaw. In each book Flavia investigates a murder mystery, torments (and is tormented by) her sisters, conducts experiments in her chemical laboratory, and desperately searches for information about the mother she has never known.
Flavia’s fifth adventure begins as she excitedly awaits the removal of St Tancred’s bones from his tomb in the church crypt to commemorate the five-hundredth anniversary of his death. She is hoping to be the first person in Bishop’s Lacey to see the saint’s bones, but what she eventually discovers when the tomb is opened is something quite different: the body of the church organist, Mr Collicutt, who had disappeared a few weeks earlier. Who murdered him and what was their motive? And why is he wearing a gas mask? These are the questions Flavia must try to answer – hopefully before Inspector Hewitt solves the mystery first! Accompanied by her trusty old bicycle, Gladys, Flavia begins to search for clues, but as well as making some discoveries regarding the organist’s death and the possible identity of his killer, she also starts to uncover some of the secrets of her mother’s past.
I’ve enjoyed every book in the series so far, but I think this one might be my favourite (either this or the Christmas-themed one, I am Half-Sick of Shadows). As I’ve mentioned in my previous Flavia reviews, I love this series because I love Flavia, the supporting characters, and the setting of Bishop’s Lacey. The actual murder mysteries are not usually very complex or difficult to solve and are not the attraction of these books for me, but I thought this was an improvement on the previous ones. It was tightly plotted with lots of clues, suspects and red herrings and during her investigations Flavia finds herself crawling through underground tunnels, entering secret locked rooms, encountering a wooden effigy that appears to have started weeping blood in the church, and discovering that she is not the only amateur detective in Bishop’s Lacey!
While Flavia is still just eleven and has only aged slightly over the course of the series, I do think we’ve seen her grow up and mature since the first book. There has been development with some of the other characters too, particularly Ophelia (Feely) and Daphne (Daffy), Flavia’s two sisters, who are not quite as horrible to Flavia in this book as they have been previously – or maybe Flavia is just learning to deal with them better. Also in this book, their father is continuing to have financial difficulties, forcing him to consider putting Buckshaw up for sale and this shared trauma helps to bring the whole family together for once. By ‘family’ I’m including the servants, Mrs Mullet and Dogger. Dogger is a great character and a true friend to Flavia – I like him more and more with every book!
If you’re new to this series, beginning with book five probably wouldn’t be a problem, but if possible I would recommend starting with the first one, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and enjoying all of Flavia’s adventures in order. This is the only one to finish with a cliffhanger ending, which means I now can’t wait to read the sixth book, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches!