These are a series of mystery novels centered on an eleven year old girl. Flavia is the youngest of three and her older sisters insist that her deceased mother never wanted her, that she was adopted and they keep trying to return her to the agency. Typical sister torment. In spite of the concerns her sisters have created Flavia is actually very self aware. From The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag she says: “Eleven-year-olds are supposed to be unreliable. We’re past the age of being poppets…… And yet we’re still not at the age where anyone ever mistakes us for a grown-up. The fact is, we’re invisible – except when we choose not to be.” p112
These novels take place in post WWII England and are very British in tone and language. Flavia rattles off chemical compounds for poisons like a modern American girl might talk about the latest American Idol contestants. Language issues may come up when for example Flavia casually refers to the folly on the property. British girls don’t need an explanation, American girls might. Still this is a charming series and Flavia, odd as she may be, is a great role model for girls aspiring to science.
The family De Luce lives on an estate in a small town in England. This is the maternal family home and the girl’s single father is struggling to keep it afloat. His distractions leave the girls to fend for themselves and they have their distinct interests. One of the girls is a reader, the other is serious about boys and of course Flavia has her chemistry.
Apparently an old uncle equipped a wing of the house with a chemistry lab, early 20th century. Home science at this level was not uncommon in the days of H.G. Wells. Flavia has taken chemistry on as her passion, with a particular penchant for poisons. Her curiosity finds her investigating the odd deaths in the community (the first of which was on the family property). Her scientific mind has her noticing things and finding explanations for them that confound the local constabulary.
Because this is a small town the young girl knows everyone, and everyone knows her. She is given a great deal of leeway because of her age and sex. This “explains” how she often comes by clues before, or in spite of the appropriate law enforcement. Her efforts are appreciated even as she continues to be discouraged from interfering.
Perhaps I should have started right off saying I’ve not read all the books in the series. I’ve only recently been introduced to Flavia on the recommendation of a friend. It doesn’t matter to me at all where the series goes, I’m hooked. The language, Flavia’s charming “devil may care” attitude, her science, the setting in the British countryside all serve to make these very satisfying little reads.