Book Reviews: The Killers Are Coming by Jack Bludis and Unreasonable Doubt by Vicki Delany

The Killers Are Coming
A Ken Sligo Mystery
Jack Bludis
Bold Venture Press, January 2017
ISBN 978-1-5410-9677-6
Trade Paperback

Killers is a throwback to the old-fashioned, hard-boiled PI noir genre told in the first person.  Ken Sligo returns home to Baltimore from overseas at the end of WW II and has no wish to go to work in the family business operating a butcher shop in a local market.  Instead, his estranged brother arranges an introduction to a local bail bondsman (and possibly a low-level gangster) and he becomes a private eye tracing bail skippers.

Then one day, he is asked to follow a woman dancer at a local theater, reporting on who she sees, talks to and any other activities.  This assignment leads Sligo far from the original purpose as the trail becomes more convoluted. Also complicating his life is his pending testimony in a murder trial of one of the men working for the bondsman.  Naturally, Sligo’s testimony is unwanted either by his erstwhile employer, or by the accused.

Having lived in Baltimore for a time, I found it nostalgic to read about the city, and especially the notorious East Baltimore Street which housed the seedier elements of the burg, including bars, burlesque houses and strip joints.  For those who enjoy this type of novel, it is an excellent example of light reading, with some aspects of a Mickey Spillane mystery, especially the violence and sex, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2017.

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Unreasonable Doubt
A Constable Molly Smith Novel #8
Vicki Delany
Poisoned Pen Press, February 2016
ISBN: 978-1-4642-0513-2
Hardcover

The author turns her attention in this entry in the Constable Molly Smith Mystery series to a wrongful conviction controversy in the form of a character named Walter Desmond, who was found guilty of murdering a young woman, and remanded to the penitentiary.  After 25 years, an appeal exonerates him based on new evidence and a sloppy police investigation.  Upon his release, he decides to return to the little town of Trafalgar, British Columbia, where he encounters considerable resentment.

Complicating his visit, a number of attacks on women occur: on the wife of Police Sergeant John Winters; on Molly’s mother, Lucky; and a visiting Dragon Boat team member.  Naturally, suspicion falls on Desmond.  Meanwhile, the original murder case is reopened, and Winters investigates the cold case with little hope of finding the killer.

The novel demonstrates how the mindset of a largely insulated population works. Most minds are made up; the police said Desmond was guilty and, despite the appeals court saying he is innocent, they still believe him to be guilty.  And it also shows the dramatic difference between old-time cops and modern professionals.  This is the tenth novel in the series, although Molly plays a small (but crucial) part in it. Winters occupies a central role.

The author has written an interesting take on the subject, especially with regard to the advisability of whether Desmond should, so to speak, return to the scene of the crime to find out why he was picked to be the murderer, or just remain in Vancouver and not face a hostile population.

An excellent series, well-written and always thought-provoking, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, March 2017.

Book Reviews: As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley, Huntress Moon by Alexandra Sokoloff, and The Sound and the Furry by Spencer Quinn

As Chimney Sweepers Come to DustAs Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
A Flavia de Luce Novel #7
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press, January 2015
ISBN 978-0-345-53993-9
Hardcover
Random House Audio, January 2015
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book
Read by Jayne Entwistle

From the publisher—

Banished! is how twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce laments her predicament, when her father and Aunt Felicity ship her off to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, the boarding school that her mother, Harriet, once attended across the sea in Canada. The sun has not yet risen on Flavia’s first day in captivity when a gift lands at her feet. Flavia being Flavia, a budding chemist and sleuth, that gift is a charred and mummified body, which tumbles out of a bedroom chimney. Now, while attending classes, making friends (and enemies), and assessing the school’s stern headmistress and faculty (one of whom is an acquitted murderess), Flavia is on the hunt for the victim’s identity and time of death, as well as suspects, motives, and means. Rumors swirl that Miss Bodycote’s is haunted, and that several girls have disappeared without a trace. When it comes to solving multiple mysteries, Flavia is up to the task—but her true destiny has yet to be revealed.

There are just a handful of series that I never miss these days and this is one of them, largely because I so adore the protagonist but also because I can always depend on the author to offer a truly good book. In the case of As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, I was slightly less enthused but certainly not enough to say I didn’t like it.

My discontent stems from the setting of this particular entry. Much of Flavia’s charm comes from her interactions with her family, her father’s “man”, their home, Buckshaw, and their village, Bishop’s Lacey. This time, though, Flavia has been sent to Canada to attend her mother’s boarding school and, to me, it just seemed awkward to have her suddenly isolated from all she has known in her short life. Having said that, Mr. Bradley soon develops some pretty good reasons for Flavia to be in this particular school and, of course, she becomes involved in a death investigation in her quite inimitable way.

As much as I missed those familiar characters, there are certainly some at Miss Bodycote’s that appealed to me in various ways, especially Collingwood, and it doesn’t hurt that a body appears on the scene quite fortuitously, a most welcome distraction for the homesick Flavia.

No matter her circumstances, Flavia cannot be repressed and my only true concern is that I have to wait till September for her next adventure, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d.

Note: I both read the book and listened to the audio edition and, as always, Jayne Entwistle brings Flavia to life and continues to wow me as a wonderful narrator and voice of this charming young girl.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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Huntress MoonHuntress Moon
The Huntress/FBI Thrillers #1
Alexandra Sokoloff
Read by R.C. Bray
Alexandra Sokoloff, May 2014
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the author—

FBI Special Agent Matthew Roarke is closing in on a bust of a major criminal organization in San Francisco when he witnesses an undercover member of his team killed right in front of him on a busy street, an accident Roarke can’t believe is coincidental. His suspicions put him on the trail of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been present at each scene of a years-long string of accidents and murders, and who may well be that most rare of killers: a female serial.

Roarke’s hunt for her takes him across three states… while in a small coastal town, a young father and his five-year-old son, both wounded from a recent divorce, encounter a lost and compelling young woman on the beach and strike up an unlikely friendship without realizing how deadly she may be.

As Roarke uncovers the shocking truth of her background, he realizes she is on a mission of her own, and he must race to capture her before more blood is shed.

It would be easy to say that if you’ve read one FBI crime novel, you’ve read them all but authors manage to keep finding ways to make their own stories just a little bit different, enough to catch a reader’s attention. In Huntress Moon, I was drawn in by the notion of a female serial killer. In real life, such a person is rare and that’s what makes the idea so interesting, at least for me.

Special Agent Roarke is an appealing protagonist in a number of ways, not least of which are his intelligence and his dogged determination to track down this elusive young woman. What’s surprising is how fascinating she is, especially since we don’t even know her name. Clearly, she has an agenda and she hunts her victims as much as Roarke hunts her; with each new killing, she becomes more real, as it were, perhaps just a little more understandable. It becomes difficult to see her as entirely evil when she meets a young father and his son and, yet, she is a bloodthirsty killer. How she came to be the way she is and Roarke’s pursuit of her are what make this such a fine story.

R.C. Bray is a new narrator to me and, at first, I wasn’t completely on board with him largely because his voices seemed not very distinctive. As the novel wore on, his performance became more satisfying and he has won awards so it was my problem, not his. He is the narrator of the second and third books in the trilogy and I’m looking forward to spending time with him again.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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The Sound and the Furry AudioThe Sound and the Furry
A Chet and Bernie Mystery #6
Spencer Quinn
Read by Jim Frangione
Recorded Books, September 2013
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

When Chet and Bernie happen upon a prison work crew that includes Frenchie Boutette, an old criminal pal they sent up the river, getting a new case is the last thing they expect. But Frenchie, who comes from an old Louisiana family full of black sheep, needs help finding his one law-abiding relative, his brother Ralph, a reclusive inventor who has gone missing with his houseboat. Though he’s tempted to take another job (with a big payday) in Alaska, Bernie decides to set course for the bayous of Louisiana, a trip that will introduce Chet to a world of sights, smells, and tastes that are like nothing he’s ever encountered. Out in bayou country, Chet and Bernie meet the no-good Boutette family and their ancient enemies, the maybe-even-worse Robideaus, and at first it seems as if Ralph’s disappearance is connected to a dispute over a load of stolen shrimp. But when Chet uncovers a buried clue, the investigation heads in a dangerous new direction involving the oil business and an impending environmental catastrophe. The more Chet and Bernie discover about Ralph, the more treacherous the job becomes, and soon they’re fighting not only Big Oil, but also shadowy black ops figures, a violent biker gang from back home, and Iko- a legendary bayou gator with a seemingly insatiable appetite. Meanwhile, deep under the Gulf, the pressure just keeps building.

Ah, it’s always so good to be back in the world of Chet and Bernie, two of my all-time favorite detectives, and following them to the bayous of Louisiana was a special treat. If ever a pair were out of their element, this is it and, to make matters worse, they fall right into the middle of a longstanding feud between two less-than-nice families.

What seems at first to be a rather simple case of thievery soon turns out to be much deeper and the missing Ralph, perhaps the only non-criminal in this unruly and menacing bunch, is still missing. Chet and Bernie learn that there’s much more than stolen shrimp going on and these two may be dealing with their most sinister case yet.

As narrator, Chet is a delight as he always is and there were many moments when I found myself grinning out loud, so to speak. I can’t help it, Chet is a terrific storyteller and his ruminations on life are hilarious 😉

There’s definitely a difference between this book and the earlier titles in the series and I think it has to do with atmosphere. Having lived in Louisiana for several years long ago, I can attest to a certain darkness, for lack of a better word, that comes from the insularity of the bayous, a kind of hostility and distrust towards the rest of the world that can lead to an uneasiness not found elsewhere. In contrast, Chet and Bernie’s usual terrain is open, perhaps deceptively so, and one can’t help feeling a little less threatened so these two are definitely in a different world when they go to the bayous.

Speaking of narrators, I always enjoy Jim Frangione as the voice of Chet and The Sound and the Furry is no exception. A good reader can make all the difference and Mr. Frangione really does the job well. He and Spencer Quinn (and the delightful Chet) are a team that can’t be beat.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

Book Review: Beneath Still Waters by Cynthia A. Graham

Beneath Still WatersBeneath Still Waters
Cynthia A. Graham
Blank Slate Press, March 2015
ISBN 978-0-9913058-4-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

The swamps and bayous around Cherokee Crossing, Arkansas have always been dark and mysterious, but on this summer day two boys stumble across the remains of a baby girl, headless and badly decomposed. Hick Blackburn, a reluctant sheriff with a troubled past is called to the scene. With nothing to go on except the baby’s race and sex, the task of discovering who she is and how she died challenges all of Hick’s investigative skills. But Hick faces a deeper challenge. The vision of the infant has left him shattered, a reminder of a war crime he has tried to lock away, a crime that has begun to eat away at the edges of his life, destroying him one relationship at a time.

With the aid of his deputies, Hick will begin to piece together his investigation, an investigation that will lead him to question everything. As he is forced to examine the town he grew up in, he will come to terms with the notion that within each of us lays the propensity for both good and evil. His investigation will turn up lies and ignorance, scandal and deceit, and the lengths a mother will go in order to hide her shame.

In World War I, they called it “shell shock” and, in World War II, the term was “combat fatigue”. Today, we know the condition as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and, while many people outside of combat situations suffer from PTSD, war is undoubtedly a primary cause. In Beneath Still Waters, two characters experience PTSD for different reasons but both stem from their service in World War II and this becomes a distinct focus of the story.

When I first heard about this novel, I was prepared for the usual kind of mystery but, within the first few pages, I knew this was going to be something totally different and, quite frankly, Ms. Graham kept me glued to the pages till the very end. Yes, there is a death and a quite horrific one at that, and it will need to be solved but it’s the young sheriff, Hick Blackburn, who took me so much by surprise. Unlike nearly every other law enforcer out there in the crime fiction field, Hick is a young man who not only doesn’t really want to be sheriff but who is actually bad at the job. His reactions to certain situations are more than puzzling; as an example, he initially thinks there should be no investigation because he wonders what good will come from it, that it might be better to let things be. This is most assuredly not the way most sheriffs would look at things but it certainly got my attention and I was more drawn in when I began to realize he was making some pretty major mistakes even considering the times (1948).

Woven throughout the contemporary story are nightmares that Hick is having from his war years, nightmares that have led him to break off his engagement and pull away from life in general. Has the death of the baby made things worse and, if so, why? Meanwhile, another young veteran, Tobe, also seems unable to deal with his return home although his struggles show up in drunken gunwaving, putting his wife and himself in peril.

Recently, I read a book in which worldbuilding was decidedly lacking but that is not the case here. Ms. Graham had me feeling the heat, the humidity, the squishy mud in the slough and I could easily visualize the post-war small Southern town with its insularity and its disbelief that such a crime could happen in Cherokee Crossing. Each character, even those considered secondary, is finely drawn and there was never any confusion as to whose voice I was hearing.

As for the mystery, the simple solution was easy to see fairly early on but Ms. Graham was not satisfied with a simple solution and the complete answer is disturbing and says a lot about the nature of human failings. I cannot recommend Beneath Still Waters highly enough for readers who look for a good mystery surrounded by a psychological study and this will be on my list of best books read in 2016.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, February 2016.

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About the Author

Cynthia A. GrahamCynthia A. Graham has a B.A. in English from the Pierre Laclede Honors College at the University of Missouri in St. Louis. She was the winner of several writing awards during her academic career and her short stories have appeared in both university and national literary publications. Cynthia is a member of the Historical Novel Society, the St. Louis Writer’s Guild, the Missouri Writer’s Guild, and Sisters In Crime. Beneath Still Waters is her first novel.

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Book Reviews: A Night in the Lonesome October by Roger Zelazny and A Bullet Apiece by John Joseph Ryan

A Night in the Lonesome OctoberA Night in the Lonesome October
Roger Zelazny
Chicago Review Press, October 2014
ISBN 978-1-55652-560-5
Trade Paperback

A quirky blend of horror, mystery, the story is narrated by Snuff, a dog. Jack the Ripper’s dog, although Jack is never quite identified. Nevertheless, he’s easily recognizable in a cast that somehow includes Sherlock Holmes, Dr Frankenstein, and Dracula, among others. Forgive me, but I’m not certain who “Jill” is, beyond an “opener.” Openers and closers being two supernatural factions who, during the month of October, gather creepy stuff to aid them in opening–or closing–the gates into the underworld.

Each of these characters has an animal companion. Jill has a cat, there’s a snake, a raven, a pack rat who’s a bit of a loose cannon. And they all speak. There are also monsters and “things” kept in mirrors and jars and old steamer trunks. Snuff is in charge of keeping them all safely corralled until the big night of October 31. Halloween.

Day-by-day, the tension mounts as the people go about collecting items needed for the opening–or closing–ceremony. Some people are friends, some dire enemies. Ditto their animal familiars. And once a night, Snuff is able to speak out loud to Jack, and so the story progresses.

As one might imagine, the finale is enough to make you shiver although, not to worry, the good guys win. Or do they? Since when is Jack the Ripper a good guy?

Since Roger Zelazny, in his last book, created this highly innovative story, which is complete with illustrations by Gahan Wilson. A perfect read for the month of October (or any month).

Reviewed by Carol Crigger, August 2015.
Author of Three Seconds to Thunder.

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A Bullet ApieceA Bullet Apiece
Saint Louis Noir #1
John Joseph Ryan
Blank Slate Press, July 2015
ISBN: 978-1-943075-01-0
Trade Paperback

The novel is a comfort read. That is, if you are an inveterate reader of crime fiction, you can be comforted knowing that every joke, every bon mot, just about every cliché of the genre finds its way into the pages of this book. The dialogue ain’t far off, either.

Ed Darvis is a St. Louis PI with a main-floor office in a seedy part of town. The period is sometime after the end of the second world war. Across the road-I suspect it’s a paved street-is a charter school of some kind and while Mr. Darvis is currently idle, he spends time smoking cigarettes, observing the kiddies and ogling the teachers. And some of the parents.

One day, a leggy, seductive woman who drives a late-model Caddy coupe bursts from the school door in what our astute PI deduces is intense fear, “radiating off her like heat waves.” She roars off in a cloud of exhaust leaving one of the teachers, clearly agitated, standing at the schoolroom door. What we have is clearly a case of child abduction. Enter PI Ed Darvis, cigarette dangling, loaded .38 in his belt, ready and willing to find the child and bed either comely teacher or luscious mother, not necessarily in that order.

The dialogue is snappy and often cute, the action is rousing and predictable and the plot becomes surprisingly tangled. Whether the whole thing is a tongue-in-cheek put-on or a serious attempt at a novel is for readers to determine. This reviewer is persuaded the author invested a considerable effort to produce this story and it has its moments.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, November 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Reviews: Faces of the Dead by Suzanne Weyn and Trouble in Rooster Paradise by T. W. Emory

Faces of the DeadFaces of the Dead
Suzanne Weyn
Scholastic Press, September 2014
ISBN: 978-0-545-42531-5
Hardcover

When we were teens, didn’t we all have moments when we wanted to slip out of our reality and be someone else? Who didn’t want to swap with a pro baseball player or the lead singer of a hot rock group? In this book, we have the reverse situation. Marie-Therese, daughter of Marie Antoinette, slips into the streets of Paris at the height of the French Revolution after she and her best friend, Ernestine, daughter of a chambermaid, discover they look so much alike they can switch places at will.

Desperate to see Paris and understand what’s going on outside of her sheltered life at the Versailles Palace, she rides into the city with a dour servant and is shocked to learn, first from him, but then from many others, that her beloved parents are hated by most of the citizenry. Despite this, Marie-Therese can’t stop becoming more fascinated with city life. Her interest becomes even more intense when she meets and starts really liking a poor boy named Henri, who likes her in return and shows her many aspects of city life. Before long, the two of them are almost inseparable and when the revolution spills out of Paris and surrounds the palace, she is trapped in Paris. Henri works at Dr. Curtius’ Wax Museum and it is here that Marie-Therese stays after her family is taken prisoner.

Anna-Marie, a woman who came to the palace to teach Marie-Therese’s aunt her art skills, works there, making most of the life-like images in wax. She recognizes the princess, but doesn’t give her away. Meanwhile, almost everyone in Paris has gone mad and the guillotine in a nearby square is lopping off heads every day. One of the tasks of those working at the wax museum is to gather heads of the notable and famous right after they’re severed and make life-masks for the revolutionaries. Every day, Marie-Therese approaches the square with trepidation, wondering whether she’ll be confronted with the head of one of her family members.

Meanwhile, Anna-Marie and Rose (later to become Josephine, wife of Napoleon), are working on a way to save some of the condemned by using some of the magic Rose learned growing up in the Caribbean. Whether they succeed is a good plot hook.

This is not a perfect read, but certainly a gripping one. Teen readers who like action and intrigue with some history mixed in and who aren’t averse to gory details will enjoy this story. There are several passages that will help them feel like they were right in the middle of an insane moment in French history. The author provides some insight into what was altered and the history of many of the characters who lived during the French Revolution in her notes at the end of the story.

Reviewed by John R. Clark, MLIS, October 2015.

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Trouble in Rooster ParadiseTrouble In Rooster Paradise
T. W. Emory
Coffeetown Press, July 2015
ISBN: 978-1-60381-996-1
Trade Paperback

An unusual plot, a different handling, a charming cast but it all goes a bit awry due to incessant if unrealized lechery. An old-time P.I. named Gunnar Nilson, the rooster of the title, is enticed by a comely rehab center volunteer to recall some of his many adventures in crime solving after he returned from the army in the Second World War. Gunnar Nilson, the narrator of the lusty tale, is recovering from a bad fall and broken leg.

Seattle was a different city from the modern sophisticated city of coffee and tall buildings but crime and criminals were little changed. A growing business in high fashion perfumes and fabrics is staffed by the loveliest collection of young women around, a scene in which the young detective revels. His wandering eye never fails to ferret out the most uplifted bosom, tightly enclosed hips and bottoms or long, slender calves in fabulous high heels. Even the older women look tempting to the randy Nilson.

An upper class investor in the business hires Nilson to conduct an investigation of the murder of one of the lovelies employed in the business. He doesn’t much care who murdered whom or why, but he wants to avoid business-damaging scandal.

It’s all played for tongue-in-cheek laughs overlying some very nasty criminal activity as Nilson unwinds his recollection of the case for the young and attractive volunteer. The story is logical, peopled by a recognizable cast of characters, including the slimy business manager, gruff and snarly detectives, and Gunnar’s boon companion who acts as the foil off whom Gunnar can examine the steps and evidence he gradually collects, and the conclusion is satisfactory.

Gunnar’s relationship with the volunteer, Kristi, has a lot of unrealized potential and I look for intriguing future developments from this author and his characters.

Reviewed by Carl Brookins, September 2015.
http://www.carlbrookins.com http://agora2.blogspot.com
The Case of the Purloined Painting, The Case of the Great Train Robbery, Reunion, Red Sky.

Book Review: A Night Divided by Jennifer A. Nielsen

A Night DividedA Night Divided
Jennifer A. Nielsen
Scholastic Press, August 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-68242-8
Hardcover

Imagine a couple members of your family go out of town for a night. When darkness descends a fence is erected; enclosing your home, neighbors and half of the city. From the next morning forward, part of your family is on one side of the fence, unequivocally separated from you.

Almost incomprehensible, yet this isn’t the beginning of a dystopian saga. A Night Divided is a heart-breakingly honest retelling of a monumental event experienced by the citizens of Berlin, merely fifty-four years ago. Certainly, most people know “of” The Berlin Wall; albeit in a vague, didn’t-I-hear-about-that-coming-down-David-Hosselhoff-or-something, kind of way. That really doesn’t seem good enough.

In her remarkably ingenious way, Ms. Nielsen took true government oppression and resilient, determined traits of the people to give us vibrant characters against gray, dismal lives. With unprecedented freedom to speak within the pages of this compelling tome; courageous, captivating—yet ordinary, every-day folks–tell their story in a way that will affect everyone.

Introduced as a spunky, outspoken little girl; Gerta grows exponentially, as she relays her years behind the wall in an admirably confident voice. Innocently, and only initially, Gerta watched invasive actions of the police against many of her East Berlin brethren. She puzzled as to why the adults just stood alongside her, also only watching. Frustration and anger quickly overtook her benign curiosity.

Bonding with her beloved older brother, repeatedly witnessing stark, harsh grief as time and again former friends were killed in escape attempts; Gerta learned. And she accepted. There was only one person that could initiate change and there was only one person that she could absolutely, wholly and completely trust. She had only herself. With that resolution, Gerta springs into a fast-paced, harrowing and gripping mission that takes the reader on an emotional roller coaster ride of feels.

As this young girl doggedly follows her heart, her spirit and hope spread to touch others with varying and surprising effects. More than one family’s story, or even one city’s story, A Night Divided is about true friendships, kindness, generosity, sacrifices and regrets. Of course, Ms. Nielsen wrote it, so it also stands that A Night Divided is just an outstanding, enthralling, fun read …. for Middle Graders, High Schoolers, Young Adults as well as Not-So-Young-Adults.

Reviewed by jv poore, September 2015.

Book Review: The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

The Dead in Their Vaulted ArchesThe Dead in Their Vaulted Arches
A Flavia de Luce Novel #6
Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press, January 2014
ISBN 978-0-385-34405-0
Hardcover
Narrated by Jayne Entwistle
Random House Audio, January 2014
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the publisher—

On a spring morning in 1951, eleven-year-old chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce gathers with her family at the railway station, awaiting the return of her long-lost mother, Harriet. Yet upon the train’s arrival in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is approached by a tall stranger who whispers a cryptic message into her ear. Moments later, he is dead, mysteriously pushed under the train by someone in the crowd. Who was this man, what did his words mean, and why were they intended for Flavia? Back home at Buckshaw, the de Luces’ crumbling estate, Flavia puts her sleuthing skills to the test. Following a trail of clues sparked by the discovery of a reel of film stashed away in the attic, she unravels the deepest secrets of the de Luce clan, involving none other than Winston Churchill himself. Surrounded by family, friends, and a famous pathologist from the Home Office—and making spectacular use of Harriet’s beloved Gypsy Moth plane, Blithe Spirit—Flavia will do anything, even take to the skies, to land a killer.

I don’t often feel the need to read a series in order but there are a few exceptions and the Flavia de Luce books by Alan Bradley are a prime example. From the beginning, we’ve watched Flavia grow from a very precocious child with a penchant for chemistry to a slightly older and still very precocious child who not only loves chemistry but also can’t abide an unsolved mystery. We’ve felt for her as she quietly lets us know her family with all its “issues” including the emotional distance between her father and all three of his daughters. We’ve come to understand how Flavia tries to cope with never having known her mother and the feeling that there’s a great gaping hole in her life.

And then we come to The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches in which her mother’s body, found after so many years, is coming home and a virtual plethora of mysteries begin. Why on earth has Winston Churchill accompanied Harriet on her final journey? How did Aunt Felicity come to be part of the sad homecoming and why does the great Mr. Churchill ask Flavia if she likes pheasant sandwiches? Who was the man who tries to tell Flavia something he says is urgent?

Of all the Flavia de Luce books, I think this one is the most emotionally wrought and there are so many twists and turns that you really have to pay attention. I ended up listening to the audio book and also reading the print version just so I could pick up on all the little nuances; by the time the end rolled around, I was a little stunned by some of the revelations and I, quite simply, had to get my hands on the next book, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust. That review will be forthcoming soon.

As for the audio book, Jayne Entwistle remains one of my very favorite narrators and, in my mind, she is Flavia, bringing her to life and giving the perfect voice to one of the most delightful characters I’ve ever “met”.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2015.