Thursday, May 16, 2013

Speaking from Among the Bones by Alan Bradley

First Sentence:  Blood dripped from the neck of the severed head and fell in a drizzle of red raindrops, clotting into a ruby pool upon the black and white tiles.
 Preteen Flavia de Luce is excited about the opening of the 500-year-old tomb of Saint Tancred and is determined to witness the event.  However, the first body uncovered, is that of Mr. Collicutt, the church organist; dead, and wearing a gas mask.  With her skill at chemistry, detection and a little help, Flavia has yet another murder to solve.
 From the beginning, it is clear that Flavia is a delightful, unusual protagonist.  She is 14 and wonderfully irreverent.  When discussing how to get a bat out of one of the church organ’s pipes, her suggestion is for her sister to “…play Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor?  Full throttle.  That out to fix the little sod.”  One cannot help but love her.  She is an outsider in her own family.  She is brilliant, yet has her insecurities.  Her sisters have told her she’s adopted so she collects samples of everyone’s blood to test for matching. Her best friends are Gladys, her bicycle which she anthropomorphizes; and Dogger, the shell-shocked soldier who was with her father during WWII and now works for the family.  There is such a wonderful bond between Dogger and Flavia.  She is daring, but not fearless. 
 It cannot be overlooked that an older man has created such a vibrant, and realistic, young character.  In an interview, he talks about how children of that age are undervalued and too much overlooked yet it’s a wonderful age as they are just on the cusp of adulthood.  The story is told in first person and Bradley has such a wonderful voice…”Whenever I’m a little blue I think about cyanide, whose color so perfectly reflects my mood.”
The story is very much character-driven.  The series started when Flavia was 11 years old; she is now 14 and we are starting to see her mature.  However, those who come into the series late needn’t worry.  Bradley provides sufficient back story for each of the characters for new readers to know who they are and the relationships between.  He also introduces a fascinating new character in the shape of a flora archeologist with a Rolls Royce named Nancy. 
Bradley has a wonderful eye for detail and period.  He provides us with a real sense of post-war England, still in the stages of uncertainty about the future.  He is also able to make chemistry fascinating. 
 Although character drives the story, the plot doesn’t at all suffer for it.  We are taken down curious and shadowy paths.  We, mistakenly, think we know where we are going, and we’re wrong.  We’re given a delightful dessert filled with fascinating tidbits of information, suspense, resolution and a whopping cliffhanger--but not in a bad way--iced with humor and emotion.
 “Speaking form Among the Bones” lags just a touch in the middle, but finishes with a roar.  It is a wonderful book and now ranks among my favorites of the series. 

SPEAKING FROM AMONG THE BONES (Ama Sleuth-Flavia de Luce-England-1950s) – VG+
Bradley, Alan – 5th in series
Delacorte Press, 2013


  1. It sounds as if this would make a great movie.

  2. Interesting thought. I really don't know that the magic of Flavia could every be accurately conveyed on the screen. So much of what prevents her from being annoying, is the internal narrative. That's where we learn what motivates her.