The Grave’s a Fine and Private Place returns Flavia de Luce to all the things I loved about the series in the first place. It’s a small town mystery and thankfully without a whiff of the international intrigue / Flavia as spy turn that soured me on the Canadian Flavia stories. It also has a lot of the characters we’ve come to love from Buckshaw, all of whom seem to feature more prominently in this mystery than in previous Flavia instalments. Grave has all the elements you’d expect of a great Flavia de Luce story, and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t outright love it as much as I thought and hoped I would, and I’m not completely sure why.
[SPOILER for the previous book below.]
The story begins with Flavia and her sisters mourning the death of their beloved father, who was Flavia’s foundation of strength for most of the series. Flavia, Daffy, Feely and their manservant / family friend Dogger go on a holiday at an idyllic small town, and while rowing on a river one lazy day, Flavia accidentally discovers a dead body. She investigates the death, locks horns with the local cop, and digs up secrets that some of the townspeople would rather stay hidden.
I like how the secondary characters played important roles in this mystery. Poetry-loving Daffy discovers one of the suspects is a famous yet reclusive poet, and her analysis of the poetry unearths some clues for the case. Feely has become estranged from her boyfriend Dieter, yet they meet up in this book and later play a crucial role in the mystery’s big reveal. We also get some fascinating hints about Dogger’s past, and possibly an important figure in it, and I really liked that insight into his character.
The mystery is solid Flavia fare. The corpse in the water leads Flavia to a series of murders committed years earlier, as well as some desperate characters in the present. The villain’s motivation is disturbing, but not too delved into. There’s also a lot of science as Flavia — and even Daffy at one point! — use chemistry and scientific knowledge to investigate.
There’s a nice, bittersweet tone to this story as Flavia comes to terms with her father being gone. There’s also a nice segue to the future of the series on the final page, and it’s a turn that feels fitting for the characters and the way the series as a whole is progressing.
So in short, it delivers everything you’d expect and want in a Flavia story, yet it didn’t wow me as the others have. It’s not that the series is getting stale — there’s a lot of new character development in this book and, as I said, there was a welcome adding of depth to secondary characters. Flavia’s ghoulishness was off-putting (what kind of person accidentally picks up a corpse by the mouth and get all giddy with excitement?!), but she’s always been somewhat ghoulish and it’s only started to bother me in recent books. Possibly it’s just me feeling a bit tired of the series, and it has nothing to do with the quality of the books. I’ll still check out the next Flavia book, as I do like that Bradley appears to be returning the series to its roots while still acknowledging the growth the characters have gone through, but I don’t think I’ll be eagerly anticipating it as much as I used to.
Thank you to Penguin Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.