And here it is! The long-awaited latest Flavia de Luce mystery. It was eminently confusing, thrilling, shocking, and very strange. I loved it.
(I recommend reading this post before you read this if you haven't read these books)
Flavia has been sent from her beloved Buckshaw (the name of her home) in England to the Canadian girls' boarding school that her mother attended. Feeling rejected and lonely, Flavia sets off with the awful Rainsmiths, members of the school board, to her new school, Miss Bodycote's Female Academy. However, there may still be hope for Flavia when, on her first night at school, a mummified body wrapped in a Union Jack falls out of the chimney. Rather than the expected child's response of fear, she pockets some pieces of evidence to examine and sets to work solving the case. But there's more-along with all of this runs the mystery of three missing girls who are never discussed. In addition to this, she's making friends, constantly having run-ins with the strict headmistress, and taking private Chemistry lessons from the Chemistry teacher. And Flavia is determined that she will be the one to solve both mysteries.
Parallel to all of this is an overarching mystery that has been growing throughout this entire series. Flavia's mother, who died in Himalayas on a mission, was in some sort of secret spy organization, or so we gather, which Flavia is now expected to join. It is only hinted at and pretty much all we know about it is its name-the Nide. It begins to be revealed in this book that Miss Bodycote's is a cover for all sorts of work done by the Nide, something that some of the girls and teachers are in on. Even in this book, things just grow more cloudy and confusing, but this just gives me hope of another book in the series.
Reading through this summary, I am struck by how ridiculous and formulaic these books could be. It's my own opinion that mysteries can veer off in that direction very easily and everything about these books could, if given the chance, scream "unbelievable and cheesy". But, Alan Bradley never for a second even considers allowing that to happen. The books are crisp and funny and exciting and, yes, even believable. Flavia is a gem of a character, brilliantly written, and even made me interested in Chemistry (her specialty). The supporting characters are no cardboard props, but 3-dimensional characters with interesting stories and unique personalities. Even the villains aren't formulaic!
In reading people's reviews, I discovered that a lot of people objected to this book on the grounds that it was too confusing and that Flavia didn't end up with a clear ending or even direction. I will agree with this objectors that this book did feel a bit like just setting the stage for the next book. However, what I disagree with is the objection that Flavia didn't end up with a clear direction. She is told that she "passed with flying colors" and, though we don't know what this means yet, we can understand that she clearly accomplished something.
If you've been reading the Flavia series, you really need to get your hands on a copy of this one. If you haven't read any of them, well, you are in for a big treat, I think. And if you have read this book, please chime in and let me know what you thought of it!