The Dead in their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley
27 May, 2014
The Dead in their Vaulted Arches is the sixth volume in Alan Bradley’s wonderful mysteries featuring the intrepid sleuth Flavia de Luce and completes a story arc first begun in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. But don’t fret, there is still more to come from Bradley’s pen and a tv adaptation in the works. Because, of course, we can’t get enough of Flavia.
The story arc in question is the mystery surrounding the disappearance and supposed death of Flavia’s mother Harriet, who was rumoured to have crashed in the Himalayas 11 years ago. But Harriet’s body, preserved in the Himalayan ice, has been found and finally she is coming home to be buried amongst her family. For Flavia, this brings as much joy as sorrow as she has little or no memory of her beloved mother. As Harriet returns to Buckshaw, all manner of people start turning up, from Winston Churchill to more suspicious figures as well as Flavia’s scary Aunt Felicity, Harriet’s cousin Lena and her equally strange daughter Undine, who may or may not be as capricious as Flavia. Amidst the dismantling of her father’s carefully built grief, Flavia begins to notice that there are several discrepancies in the account surrounding her mother’s death. What exactly was Harriet doing flying her plane into the Himalayas in the middle of war and leaving behind three small children? And who was she trying to warn in the film Flavia happens to find by chance, one of the last recorded memories of her mother? As the de Luces and almost everyone of importance descend upon Buckshaw to bid Harriet farewell, Flavia begins to realise that the long arm of the war is still reaching out for her and that there are still things about her family which will surprise her.
Finally, we will find out what happened to Harriet. Unlike the other mysteries in the series, this volume is the conclusion of a story told in the last five volumes and not a stand-alone. Although I’ve wanted to know what happened to Harriet since volume 1, I did feel there could have been a little more mystery and substance to the story rather than it being solely a conclusion with an introduction to further mysteries for Flavia (which sound really exciting though!) I don’t want to give anything away so you’ll just have to read it, and although this isn’t my favourite episode in Flavia’s colourful history, it’s still a necessary part, just to offer some closure and I’m glad Flavia finally got to see Harriet again. However, I did wish there was more of a motive and explanation and back story behind Harriet’s tale, which would make fascinating reading and I do hope Bradley would consider writing some short stories with Harriet as the protagonist. I love Flavia but her mother is fascinating too.
One of the strongest things about Bradley’s series is the notion of family in its myriad incarnations from blood ties, honour, loyalty and love to its more ugly side, jealousy, envy and hate. The characters that people the quintessentially English village of Bishop’s Lacey are colourful, compassionate and often full of surprises as are those in Flavia’s family including their faithful retainer Dogger, suffering from shell shock, and whose history we uncover a little more in The Dead in their Vaulted Arches.
I can’t wait to read the next book in the series. Hurry!