At the end of the last book, we readers got the news that Flavia’s long-lost-in-the-Himalayas-or-wherever mother had been found, and I personally was like, OMGOMGOMGOMGOMG because I very much wanted to meet Harriet and I especially wanted Flavia to meet her and maybe stop feeling like such a red-headed stepchild around her siblings.
This book starts off with Harriet’s return home via train, with a huge entourage of soldiers and whatnot, but of course, spoilers for the incurably optimistic like myself, it turns out that this is a funeral train and it is Harriet’s body that has been found, actually. Frowny… face.
On the plus side, Flavia meets Winston Churchill, which is pretty awesome, but then on the minus side she witnesses yet another murder in her tiny town when a man with a cryptic message for Flavia’s father is pushed in front of the departing train.
Although we get this murder right up front, it turns out that this book falls right into the pattern of even-numbered installments being more about Flavia and her family and her history than some boring murder, although in this case I was extremely interested in this backstory. Flavia spends much of her time channelling Frankenstein and attempting to reanimate her mother, because that’s going to go well, but she also meets some new family members and finds an old film of her mother that gives Flavia new facts about her family’s past.
And what a past it is. We finally get a sense of why there are so many murders occurring near Buckshaw and Bishop’s Lacey, and why Flavia is given such free rein to go off investigating, not to mention her forays into chemistry and poisons in her own personal lab. We even learn just why it is that Flavia’s sisters are so hostile to her, aside from, you know, being siblings.
The end of this novel brings with it a huge change for the series that will probably protect many rural English villagers but can only bode poorly for another set of citizens that Flavia has yet to meet. It will be very interesting indeed to see where Bradley takes this series and whether it will have the same delightfulness that I associate with Flavia and Buckshaw or develop a new and different (and perhaps better?) identity. As I said up at the top, I am intrigued.
Recommendation: For those who have read the rest of the series, which should be you!