I don’t remember how i came across this series, but within a few pages i was hooked and by the end of the first book, i was in love. I love our eleven year old sleuth (by accident), who is irreverent and innocent all at the same time. Alan Bradley is my hero for creating this little genius detective. These books are funny, heart breaking, great plots all rolled into one.
Flavia lives in Buckshaw with her two older sisters – Ophelia (Feely) and Daphne (Daff), her father, fathers general dogsbody (Dogger) and housekeeper cum cook Mrs Mullet. Her mother, Harriet, who everyone seems to love died in an accident when she was one.
“Their combined age totalled thirty years. Thirty years! – against my eleven. It was not only unsporting, it was downright rotten. And it simply screamed out for revenge” perfectly defines the relationship between the three sisters. Flavia, a self taught genius chemistry geek is also perpetually in motion and boundlessly curious about everything – especially dead bodies. “My particular passion was poison” – oh yeah! our detective here is quite blood thirsty by nature and hates being treated like a child (more so than anything else)
Flavia’s first encounter with a dead body was downright funny “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.” She find a dead body in the garden in early hours of the morning and takes umbrage when the police (probably rightfully so) asks her to stay inside and send out some tea.
With her curious mind, Flavia could not stop herself from asking questions, seeking out people and uncovering clues after clues towards the identity of the killer – who is closely related to her father and his school life. She, especially spurs into action when police takes her father into custody as a potential suspect for murder. Her sisters are wailing at home, and Flavia on her own initiative, lands at the prison, manages to negotiate a deal with the Inspector to let her visit her father. For the first time in her life, (as per her) father confides in his youngest daughter about some of the past and associations, which could be related to the event. “There was nothing else to do but to burst into tears. I hated to do it, but it was the only tool that i had with me.”
Between analysing the chemicals in her pristine, state of the art laboratory (inherited from ancestors) and analysing the past, we find Flavia making herself a general nuisance and always a step ahead of the police. In the end she manages to uncover the great mystery, at the cost of being abducted and left tied up in a dark pit.
The writing is rich and arresting, with the expressions and feelings laid bare for the reader to feel what characters are feeling. “I was Flavia. And i loved myself, even if no one else did.” At times, the confusions, the loneliness and need for affection is so raw in this girl, that it is heart breaking and then the next moment, she is on to something so convoluted that it would have you roaring with laughter. “If there is a thing i truly despise, it is being addressed as ‘dearie’. When i write my magnum opus, A Treatise Upon All Poisons, and come to ‘Cyanide’, i am going to put under ‘Uses’ the phrase: ‘Particularly efficacious in the cure of those who call one ‘Dearie’.”
Chemistry has never been my favourite subject, throughout my life and yet i managed to learn a few things from Flavia. I adored reading her cynicism, manipulation and innocence and cheered for her when she came out the winner.