The Grave's a Fine and Private Place / Alan Bradley
Toronto: Doubleday Canada, c2018.
I'm a Flavia de Luce fan, so I was eagerly awaiting the arrival of this book. After the last volume in this series, ending with a terrible family tragedy, I really wasn't sure where he was going to take the story. It seemed like the previous book was a natural conclusion -- how would he carry on?
Fortunately, Bradley has found a path forward so that we won't lack for Flavia in future. I thought that this book was stronger than the last few and shows an opening up of Flavia's world which bodes well. The title was well chosen -- from the poem by Marvell, "The grave's a fine and private place, but none I think do there embrace". In this episode, Flavia's fascination with the grave is tempered by a realization that her family relationships are really important. And there is a thawing of the frosty affections between she and her sisters.
As this book opens, Flavia and her sisters are rather reluctantly on a river journey, alongside their loyal family retainer, Dogger. They are feeling bored and forced into this familial excursion, until Flavia, trailing her hand in the water, hooks what she thinks might be a large fish, but typically for her, turns out to be a dead body.
Flavia springs into detective mode, and explores the leads in the small riverside village they are now halted in. She finds that there are many secrets and red herrings to pursue, until her cleverness almost does her in entirely. When her sister comes to her rescue, Flavia sees a new relationship unfold that will keep all of them at Buckshaw Manor after all, and financially stable as well.
The joys of this series are almost entirely due to Flavia and her internal life; in this volume there is more to explore, as her connection to her siblings and to Dogger suddenly become warmer and more respectful. It feels like Flavia is beginning to emerge from the resounding isolation of the earlier books, and to find her role in her family and the wider world. Despite all of the tragedy in her family history, there is a new development on the horizon that should keep her going, and hopefully this series going as well.
The writing in this book is finer and more nuanced as well, and seeing different angles to all the characters is rewarding. I am finding more to like about each of them, and the only problem now is waiting for the next volume. Highly recommended.