The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

the-dead-in-their-vaulted-arches I love Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce series. I love the 1950s setting, I love getting to know the inhabitants of Buckshaw – the de Luce estate in the little English village of Bishop’s Lacey – and most of all I love Flavia, our eleven-year-old narrator with a talent for solving mysteries and a passion for chemistry and poisons. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, though, is probably my least favourite Flavia novel so far. I found it quite disappointing, but I’m hoping it’s just that I was in the wrong mood for it and that things will get back to normal when I pick up the next book in the series.

The first Flavia novel, if you’re like me and prefer to read a series in order, is The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is book number six and although some of the earlier novels could probably be read as standalones, I wouldn’t recommend reading this particular book until you’ve read the fifth one, Speaking from Among the Bones, because it ended on a cliffhanger – and this one picks up the story from that point.

The de Luce family have been joined by their friends and neighbours on the platform at Buckshaw Halt, waiting for the arrival of the train bringing Flavia’s mother, Harriet, home to Bishop’s Lacey. Flavia has never known her mother – she was just a baby when Harriet went missing (presumed dead), in Tibet ten years earlier. It’s an emotional day for Flavia and her family, then, but it’s also an eventful one in other ways…a stranger at the station begins to give Flavia a cryptic message, but moments later he is found dead beneath the wheels of the train as it leaves. Did someone push him? And could his death be connected with what happened to Harriet?

I think every time I’ve written about this series I’ve said that the mystery-solving is only one small element of each book and that the real charm is in the setting, the characters and Flavia’s narration. In this particular novel the mystery is almost non-existent and Flavia doesn’t get a chance to do the detective work she usually does, searching for clues and making lists of suspects. This gives The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches a different feel from the rest of the series and I think that could be why I didn’t like it as much. It seems that the mystery element was more important to me than I thought it was! That’s not to say, though, that there were no secrets to be uncovered here and no revelations to be made – because there certainly were.

Flavia, who was ten years old when we first met her, is now nearly twelve and I think Alan Bradley is doing a great job of showing the subtle changes in her character from one book to the next as she begins to grow up. Things happen in this book which require a more mature attitude from Flavia and she is forced to make some difficult decisions, but there are also times when she still behaves like the child she is – for example, when she becomes convinced that she will be able to use her chemical skills to reanimate a dead body.

With a storyline based around Harriet’s return, most of the action in this novel takes place in and around Buckshaw which means Flavia spends a lot of time with the other de Luce family members. Her relationships with her father and her sisters, Daffy and Feely (Daphne and Ophelia), are still strained, but some of the information revealed in this book helps us to understand why this is. I’ve been wondering since the beginning of the series why Daffy and Feely had such a problem with Flavia, so I’m pleased that things have finally become a bit clearer!

I’m not sure whether I liked the direction the story went in towards the end of the book but I’m still looking forward to reading As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, and hoping I will like it better than this one.

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12 thoughts on “The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley”

  1. Helen, I’m so glad to see your review of this because it’s made me realize that I missed this one. I’ve read the entire series (save this one) in order, and also As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust AND The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse and somehow seemed to have skipped The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches entirely.

    I agree that one reads this series for the characters. But a mystery is nice too. 🙂

  2. This one wasn’t my favorite Flavia mystery either…I must have been really tired when I read it because I remember getting confused once or twice trying to keep the past story line with her mother and the mystery of her death straight in my head, but I still liked it. Flavia is such a great character. I’m eagerly awaiting Bradley’s latest; I’ve got it on reserve at the library. 🙂

    1. I struggled to remember some of the background to the story too, but that’s probably because it’s been almost three years since I read the previous book! I hope you enjoy the latest one – I still need to read As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust first, so it will be a while before I catch up with you.

  3. I love this series although as you say – some are better than others. I’m waiting in a library queue for the newest one – Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d .

    1. Oh, I’m sorry to hear that as I still have the next two books to read. I’m hoping to start As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust soon, so I’ll be able to see what I think.

      1. Helen, have I missed one of your Walter Scott reviews? We have been in total chaos here, what with moving almost 2000 miles and then not having internet for three weeks, so I think I saw a reference on your blog to a review I didn’t know about.

        1. No, I haven’t reviewed any of the Walter Scott books recently, but I did read Merivel in October and mentioned it in my end of month summary post, so you might be thinking of that. I’ll let you know when I post the review.

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