The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley. Delacorte Press, 2014. $24.00, 336 pages.
It’s a perfect day for a homecoming, but far too beautiful for a funeral. Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce and her family have gathered at the Buckshaw Halt train station, reopened especially for the occasion, and are awaiting the arrival of the train from London, carrying their long lost mother Harriet home one last time.
Missing for the past ten years after a hiking trip in the Himalayas, Flavia’s mother has finally been found and brought home to be put to rest. Confused, sad and just not quite sure how to feel for the loss of the mother she’s never known, Flavia can’t help but be mystified and intrigued when Winston Churchill himself disembarks from the train and asks her if she’s also acquired a taste for pheasant sandwiches.
And then, when a mysterious stranger approaches her with a message for her father that “the Gamekeeper is in jeopardy” shortly before being pushed under the departing funeral train, Flavia discovers she has two mysteries to solve. One, who exactly was Harriet de Luce and what do pheasant sandwiches have to do with anything? Second, who was the mysterious stranger, who is the Gamekeeper, and who pushed him in front of a train?
As Flavia investigates her mother’s life and death, she learns that there is so much more to the de Luce family history than she’s ever realized. With a varied cast of characters, both old friends and new, helping and hindering, Flavia has her work cut out for her, and she must use all of her precocious ingenuity to uncover the truth behind what really happened to Harriet, who pushed the mysterious stranger, and the identity of the Gamekeeper.
“The Dead in their Vaulted Arches” is the last in Bradley’s originally planned six novels, and it definitely shows as this book feels like the end of a journey. But he does have another four Flavia titles in the works, so it’s not the end of her adventures. He’s given us another thoroughly entertaining entry in her story, and although each previous book can be read as a standalone novel, “The Dead in their Vaulted Arches” really needs the foundation laid in the earlier titles to fully appreciate everything that Bradley has been building up to.
Besides, it’s much more enjoyable to start from the beginning in “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” with Flavia and follow along with her to see where her journey takes her. And as Flavia prepares for the next chapter in her life, readers should look forward to seeing what is in store for her next.
Rebekah Scott is a reference librarian at May Memorial Public Library. Visit us on the web at www.alamancelibraries.org.