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Bookends: Introducing the Buckshaw Chronicles November 5, 2015

Posted by klondykewriter in Bookends.
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Bookends: Introducing the Buckshaw Chronicles

By Dan Davidson

May 12, 2015

– 860 words –

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

By Alan BradleySweetness

Anchor Canada

373 pages


The very first of the Flavia de Luce mysteries, otherwise known as the Buckshaw Chronicles, begins with our 11 year old heroine in the sort situation that will be echoed later on in the book when things get serious.

“It was black in the closet as old blood. They had shoved me in and locked the door. I breathed heavily through my nose, fighting desperately to remain calm.”

Flavia then explains to us in some detail what she has to do to get free of the place where her older sisters have left her. Just why they tied and gagged her in there is never quite made clear, but I expect she had provoked them in some fashion. Just her use of pet names for Daphne (Daffy) and Ophelia (Feely), combined with her undisputed assumption that she is worth more than both of them put together, might be enough to inspire them.

Later on, when the thief and murderer also ties and gags her in a small, dark space, she does not find it so easy to get free.

The series takes its name from the fictional village region in which it is set, an interestingly rural British setting for a Canadian writer who was living in Kelowna when he submitted the first chapter of the book to the British Debut Dagger Competition back in 2007. He not only won the contest but was approached by two of the judges, who offered to buy the rest of the book, if he should finish it.

Seven months later, after a bidding war, and after picking up his award in London, he did so. The original book resulted in a three book contract (those books now being marketed In an omnibus volume under the series title), which was extended to six books, and then to ten. There are currently eight books in print.

Flavia is eccentrically bright, obsessed with chemistry, and possessed of a curious mind, so when she trips over a dying stranger just outside the kitchen door of the mansion around four o’clock one morning, nothing will do but that she inject herself into the investigation in every way she can think of.

What has dying man, who exhales “vale” (farewell) with his last breath got to do with the dead bird that was left on their doorstep with a stamp impaled on its beak the day before? Why was her father, an obsessive philatelist (everyone in the family has some kind of obsession) so upset by the latter event? Why does Inspector Hewitt take her father into custody? Who is her father protecting when he confesses to murdering the stranger?

The story is set in the summer of 1950, yet it has a sort of timeless cozy mystery flavour to it that tends to disregard decades. Flavia, as written, is punching above her age in terms of expression, but still naïve enough to be an 11 year old. She carries the first person narration well.

The book has some interesting supporting characters. We don’t get a lot of information about her father. He seems to be in financial difficulties, but we don’t get details. We learn more about his youth at a boarding school than we learn about his present day self.

The sisters are older that our heroine. They have their own obsessions: Feely with her looks and Daffy with books. The housekeeper, Mrs. Mullet, is a good deal shrewder than Flavia thinks she is. And then there’s the faithful man servant/gardener/chauffer Dogger (which brings the title of dogsbody to mind), whose mysterious ailment has yet to be explained in the first book.

Inspector Hewitt sounds like he might be a continuing character. He’s not at all slow on the uptake, but Flavia manages to throw him a few curves as the case progresses. Chapter 27 has what looks to be the makings of a beautiful friendship or at least a working relationship.

Buckshaw and its environs seem likely to have a lot of room for development. Certain areas are sketched out nicely. Flavia needs to do research so there’s a very eccentric local library where it seems that she might be able to find just about anything in future books.

In terms of flavour, I’m reminded somewhat of Eoin Colfer’s Artimis Fowl series, though Colfer’s character is a teenage criminal mastermind. Flavia might go either way, as long as she was enabled to work her love of chemistry into the scheme. Solving the crime, in this first case, has more to do with exonerating her father and enjoying the puzzle, than with any absolute desire to see justice done.

After all, when she discovers the body in chapter two, her first impulse is not to be filled with a need to bring anyone to justice.

“I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”