The sixth installment in Alan Bradley’s award-winning Flavia De Luce series finds our heroine anxiously awaiting the return of her long absent mother, Harriet, at the train station. What she doesn’t count on is a whispered, cryptic message from a stranger who promptly ends up murdered. Flavia unravels this latest mystery with the help of some discovered film footage, a Gipsy Moth plane, and – of course - the magic of chemistry.
Flavia is an engaging character, at once intensely precocious and extremely child-like. The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches has a decidedly more serious tone than the previous volumes, and it works in the overall narrative’s favor, as Flavia sorts through her feelings towards the mother she never knew while she investigates the murder of the stranger at the train station. The murder mystery definitely takes a backseat here, with Bradley spending a good deal of time sitting with Flavia and examining her doubts about herself and her family. I appreciated getting to know this more sensitive side of Flavia. I also appreciated Bradley taking the time to flesh out some of the peripheral characters, like Flavia’s father, sisters, and their faithful friend, Dogger. Bradley manages to make the De Luce family more sympathetic without compromising the sketches of personality laid out earlier in the series.