As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (Flavia de Luce)
by Alan Bradley
Review by Gayle Surrette
Delacorte Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780345539939
Date: 06 January 2015 List Price $25.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Flavia de Luce, in my opinion one of the greatest characters in any genre, is being sent to Miss Bodycote's Female Academy in Canada by her family. There she is supposed to be trained to follow in her mother's footsteps in some sort of secret society, as well as being given a balanced and formal education. Flavia appreciates the thought, but feels like she's being sent to prison where she knows no one and will have to follow the dictates of others. She may only be twelve, soon to be thirteen, but she's been doing a good job of educating herself so far -- not to mention having solved a number of crimes. Note that those crimes were murders, so she's feeling she has little to learn at this new school.
A fairly rough crossing meant less time with her tedious guards, Ryerson Rainsmith, a member of the school board, and his wife. Arriving after long travel, she's finally gets to the school. Delivered to her room, she's given some basic information and left alone to contemplate her fate. She'd just gotten to sleep when she's accosted in her bed. And turning on her light brings one of the teachers, earning her demerits for breaking the no lights after curfew rule. As if the day hadn't been bad enough, it is just about then that a body falls out of her chimney, followed by the head that rolls across the floor.
For those who have read the Flavia de Luce series, you know that this is not so much a shock for Flavia but a case to be solved. From this moment Flavia may be homesick, to the point that she even misses her sisters, but she's now got a number of clues to unravel and some secrets to tease out of the gossip and actions of those she comes in contact with at the school.
The joy of these books is being privy to Flavia's thoughts and feelings. She may be young and inexperienced but she's observant, clever, smart, witty, and always questioning what she hears and observes. She may put a different spin on her observations than those with a bit more life experience would but everything is consistent with what she's learned about the world and people.
Flavia is, in many ways, similar to Anne of Green Gables, with her optimism and passion for life. However, Flavia is more along the lines of a young female Sherlock Holmes as she tries to separate emotions from facts to solve the crimes that, in this case, fall at her feet.
Each of the books can stand alone as there is enough backstory provided, as she complains about being sent off alone to Canada and school, that it's fairly easy to pick up the background. The time period, I believe, is between the two world wars, which works very well with the characters and social conventions of that time.
Highly recommended for readers of all ages.