Now that both King George VI and her own beloved father have died (Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, 2016, etc.), preteen sleuth/savant/troublemaker Flavia de Luce fears that she’ll have to submit to the iron rule of her Aunt Felicity—but not before another “happy holiday” with murder intervenes.
Whisked off by family retainer Arthur Dogger on a river trip to Volesthorpe along with her sisters, Flavia trails her hand in the water just long enough to snag the corpse of alcoholic young actor Orlando Whitbread, the protégé of one-legged actress-turned-director Poppy Mandrill, of the Puddle Lane Little Theatre. Before his recent death, Orlando’s greatest claim to fame had been through his father, Canon George Whitbread, who’d been executed for poisoning three of his parishioners at Holy Communion. Convinced, despite the evidence smug Constable J.R. Otter brandishes that Orlando drowned in the river, that he was poisoned, Flavia resolves to investigate the new mystery and reopen the old. Fans of the precocious sleuth who share her unapologetically enthusiastic sense that “an unexamined corpse was a tale untold” will rub their hands gleefully, confident that her resolution will unleash a dazzling barrage of innocent-seeming questions, recherché chemical and pharmacological tidbits, fibs and whoppers, and the most coyly bratty behavior outside the pages of Kay Thompson’s chronicles of Eloise. This time it also brings Flavia up against undertaker’s son Hob Nightingale, a ragamuffin even younger and odder than her who comes across as something of a kindred spirit, a solace she richly deserves.
Despite a climactic attempt on her life, Bradley’s unquenchable heroine brings “the most complicated case I had ever come across” to a highly satisfying conclusion, with the promise of still brighter days ahead.