Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.
Even though When Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust came out at the beginning of the year, it took me a while to read it for a couple of reasons. First, I wasn’t sure that I was ready to say good bye to the de Luces, Dogger or Buckshaw, but especially Flavia. How could I start reading what is supposed to be the last book when I know that doing so would mean that it was all over?
And then I heard that the setting in this 7th book was going to be a boarding school in Canada. At first I was STOKED. What would Flavia make of Canada? But then I worried that changing the setting might kill some of the magic of these books. How will Flavia fare away from her sisters and Dogger? What will she do without faithful Gladys and Uncle Tarquin’s chemistry lab?
If you are wondering some of the same things, I’m here to tell you not to worry. Alan Bradley has successfully navigated the change of venue and has created a setting and a whole new cast of characters that are completely worthy of a Flavia de Luce mystery. The chemistry teacher was acquitted of poisoning her husband; the headmistress is at once extremely sympathetic and intent on punishing Flavia for any indiscretions, no matter how slight; the head of the board of directors is a seriously dodgy guy; and of course, there’s a body!
After finally finding out what happened to her mother, Flavia is sent to the school that her mother went to – in Canada. After surviving the boat trip there, she arrives late at night and is sent to her room immediately. Soon thereafter she’s woken up by a pupil beating the living daylights out of her – Collingwood thinks Flavia is someone else. After breaking a couple more rules (students aren’t allowed in each other’s rooms and lights aren’t allowed to be turned on after lights out), they find themselves staring at a body that’s been dislodged from the chimney, with the headmistress demanding to be let in the room.
If you’ve read any of the Flavia books, you will know that our heroine loves nothing more than a dead body. She has to learn lots of new tricks in this new world – how to be a part of the investigation in this strange place, who she can and can’t trust, and how to get to use the chemistry lab.
This book might have been one of the funniest in the series. Flavia is completely out of her element and the way that she navigates this new world is hysterical. And yet, Buckshaw, Feely and Daffy aren’t forgotten. Flavia feels intense homesickness for her home and her chemistry lab, Dogger and even her sisters. I think she probably surprised even herself with how much she misses them and constantly mentions things she learned from them or things they used to tell her. In this way, Bradley seems to have found a way to bridge the gap between this new world and the old one we’d all gotten used to being a part of.
But now that I’m finished with it, I’m not any surer about the future of this series. Does Bradley have another book up his sleeve? Is he ready to move on? I’m not ready to move on so I hope he’s still got another story to tell. Flavia is one of the best characters in literature right now and if you haven’t read these books yet, you are missing out big time.
If I haven’t convinced you, read this interview with Alan Bradley – that should do the trick.