As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

In Alan Bradley's seventh novel, intrepid 11-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce has been banished from her beloved Buckshaw Manor in bucolic England to Miss Bodycote's Female Academy in Toronto, her late mother's alma mater. Her gloom lifts when a desiccated corpse plunges from the chimney to her dorm room's hearth on her first night in Canada! It's a ready-made case for the precocious chemist.

At the end of the last novel in the series, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, Aunt Felicity hinted at Flavia's destiny to continue the family's cryptic Duty. Homesick and missing even her annoying sisters, plucky Flavia puts on a good show for her tight-lipped classmates and Headmistress Miss Fawlthorne, who has "the look of a pirate who had given up the sea for a career in education." The mysteries of the De Luce family (for example, why was Winston Churchill at her mother's funeral?) plus the secretive attitudes of her classmates put Flavia on guard. Not knowing whom she can trust, she performs--swooning, weeping, cajoling--in order to place herself in the best positions for sleuthing: "Feigning stupidity was one of my specialties." Investigating the corpse's identity on the sly is risky, and although Flavia's blood runs cold more than once, she perseveres.

Book seven is a rollicking read for anyone just meeting Flavia, but readers of previous installments will welcome her like an old friend, savoring references to the folks back home at Buckshaw--where, like Flavia, they'll hope to return. --Cheryl Krocker McKeon, manager, Book Passage, San Francisco

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