Flavia de Luce is an 11-year-old chemistry nut in a rambling old English mansion in 1950. Her father is a stamp-collecting recluse, and she and her two older sisters are pretty much on their own – their mother died years ago. Flavia hears her father arguing with a stranger one evening, and then later that night, finds the stranger dead in the garden. The precocious chemist, worried that her father did the deed, sets out to solve the crime on her own and befuddle the police in the process, just in case her father’s guilty.
The writing in this book is really lovely, and I wish I had liked it more. It’s just a little too over-the-top with the characters, and parts of it don’t make quite enough sense. Flavia and her sisters are not fond of each other, but some of their tricks and pranks cross the line from sibling shenanigans to outright meanness, and I’m just not sure how the reader is supposed to keep rooting for Flavia. Yes, her instinct to protect her father is good, but she dips her sister’s lipstick in poison ivy and then takes notes on how bad the reaction gets day after day (for example). And some of the things she does to interfere with the police make no sense. The inspector seems very competent, willing to listen to the family, and interested in getting to the truth. Plus, you know, she’s ELEVEN. Sure, she’s a very smart eleven, but still. Stay out of the way, squirt.
Mr. de Luce has some backstory with a boys’ school, and it turns out he knew the victim, and there’s a mystery with a long-missing stamp. The story is fine, and like I said, the writing is beautiful, but I never quite got invested in the whole thing.