A precocious 11-year-old chemist confesses to murder.
Buckshaw, the de Luce ancestral home, is in a bit of an uproar. First the cook finds a dead snipe with a stamp jammed on its beak on the doorstep. Then young Flavia awakens in the dead of night to hear her taciturn father, who normally saves his passion for his stamp collection, arguing with someone. Creeping out to the cucumber patch below her window to see more, she finds a man who breathes out the word “Vale,” then expires. When Inspector Hewitt arrests her father, Flavia decides that her confession will save him. Hewitt doesn’t believe her, of course, and she is forced to solve the crime between making trips to her attic sanctum, poisoning her sister Ophelia’s lipstick and ignoring her sister Daphne, who always has her nose in a book. The one person she trusts is the family factotum, Dogger the gardener, a shell-shocked war comrade of her father the Colonel. Her snooping leads her to an ancient episode involving her father, the corpse and another former alumnus of Greyminster who has few qualms about killing her.
Brilliant, irresistible and incorrigible, Flavia has a long future ahead of her. Bradley’s mystery debut is a standout chock full of the intellectual asides so beloved by Jonathan Gash readers. It might even send budding sleuths to chemistry classes.