US cover, which I prefer
‘Too short! Too short!’ is my usual wail on finishing the latest Flavia de Luce novel and knowing that a whole year must pass before the next one. No pressure on Alan Bradley, then; but he never lets us or Flavia down. How I dote on the brilliant, twelve-year-old chemist with her morbid fascination for poisons and murder. How I love Buckshaw, her decaying home; her sad, mourning father; sisters Daffy and Feely, each brilliant in her own way yet unkind to their little sister; faithful, damaged Dogger, the factotum who is so much more than he seems.
We left Flavia at the end of The Dead in their Vaulted Arches knowing more about the strange disappearance of her mother and about to be packed off (banished, as she sees it), to her mother’s old school in Canada. She doesn’t leave empty handed, for Aunt Felicity has given her a gift likely to be useful to a girl detective:
The crucifix itself was altogether quite remarkable, modeled (sic, this is the US edition), Aunt Felicity told me, on the idea of the Trinity, three-in-one: Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. And so it also contained, besides the pencil, a small but powerful magnifying glass that swung out from inside the cross, and a surprisingly complete set of lock picks. “For quiet Sundays,” she had said,
No sooner has a homesick Flavia arrived than a strange girl enters her room by accident, hides up the chimney when the headmistress turns up outside the door, then falls down it again, dislodging with her a charred corpse. Flavia’s reaction is typical:
I have seen numerous dead bodies in my lifetime, each more interesting than the last, and each more instructive. This one, if I was counting correctly, was number seven.
The question is: whose body? Was it murder and, if so, who is the murderer? Is it true that three girls have ‘disappeared’ from the school and were they murdered? Trust Flavia to find out, but a lot must happen first. Keen eyed readers will have noticed an extra dimension to this novel: not just a murder mystery but a school story, which will please lovers of the genre. Not even Hogwarts, though, is stranger than Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, where nothing is quite as it seems. ‘Trust no one’, Flavia is told by the headmistress. Which of the girls should she be friendly with? Which might be ‘one of us’? (That is, in on the secret which Aunt Felicity has revealed but which I won’t.) As for the staff!
Flavia has some special treatment, in the form of extra chemistry lessons in the middle of the night, using the latest and most expensive equipment. She also has a surprising amount of time to herself, allowing her to go snooping about in her shameless way. Her mother’s photograph hangs in the hall of fame; is Flavia heading the same way or is she failing in her mission? It’s impossible for her to know what the mission is and even at the end of the story it’s not completely clear. Good! That means another book. I loved every page of As Chimney Sweepers and look forward to more Flavia. The book will be published in January in the USA but UK readers have to wait until next April. I feel very lucky to have been able to read the book pre-publication, thanks to Random House and NetGalley.