Sunday, June 10, 2012

Good Stuff: Flavia de Luce Mysteries

I've been way too grumpy on here for too long, so it's time to trot out another in my very periodic series about things I enjoy. I've previously posted about the TV show Castle and the YA Chrestomanci series by Diana Wynne Jones.

When I was looking for audio books, back when I discovered I could go through a book a week with all the driving I was doing for work, I was browsing at the library and this cover caught my eye:

More information about this book here.

I'm not a big mystery reader. I've read some, and liked most of what I read, but I always give myself a headache trying to figure out the murderer. There's always that obscure detail I overlooked to miss the ending. I imagine those who like mystery series really like the detective who solves the case. Most mystery series are far along, with several dozen volumes. I believe in starting at the beginning and reading every last one, so I look at the time investment in some of those series, and I need a nap just thinking about it.

So the fact that there are only four published books in this series so far is a point in its favor, as far as I'm concerned. (It was just picked up for 4 more and there are 2 as-yet-unpublished, so there will be at least 10.) But that's not why I read it.

No, I read it for Flavia.

Flavia de Luce is 11 years old in 1950s England, and lives in a crumbling estate. Her mother died when she was an infant, and her father is emotionally distant. Her sisters are in no hurry to step in as surrogate mother figures; they're cruel and spiteful, and, in the oldest sister's case, vain. Flavia isn't the most lovable little sister (her aspirations for the future include becoming a serial poisoner), but she does have a dynamic and fascinating voice.

There's an ongoing mystery throughout all of the books, revolving around her family history and finding out more about the mother she never knew. Flavia understands that she takes after her mother in many regards, which may be why her still-grieving father keeps her at arm's length, and why her sisters, who remember and love their mother, torment her so.

But in the mysteries, themselves, Flavia inserts herself into the murder investigations, wanted or not, and is outraged to be shooed away. That this often puts her in danger proves only a minor inconvenience to the perpetually curious Flavia.

The area surrounding Buckshaw, Flavia's family's estate, is populated with an engaging cast of characters, and described in loving detail. Flavia spends her days riding a bike that used to belong to her mother, which allows her to explore a good portion of the countryside. Most of the villagers treat Flavia with an amused tolerance, but she has those she can call her friends among the small population of Bishop's Lacey.

As I mentioned above, I first encountered the books on audio, and I've continued to listen to them as they come out. Jayne Entwistle's narration really brings Flavia to life. If I ever read paper versions of these books, I know I'll hear it in my head in Ms. Entwistle's voice. During lighter moments, she sounds like she's half-laughing as she reads, and she has a vast array of accents that mark each character's distinct voice.

Whether or not you're a mystery reader, I highly recommend these books. They're funny, dark, and very enjoyable.

My reviews of book 1, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and book 2, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag are on Goodreads. I have reviews on the blog for book 3, A Red Herring Without Mustard, and book 4, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows.

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