Although I don't get deluged with books from publishers like some bloggers I know, the occasional surprise package does plop through the door and it's always exciting when it does. This one appeared unannounced and I knew absolutely nothing about it or its author, though I have since realised he wrote The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, which I had heard of though not read.
If you have read that, you will know that it is a detective novel with a twist -- the detective is a ten year old child, Flavia de Luce. In this, the second in the series,Flavia reappears, now aged eleven. If you think a child detective sounds like a pretty far-fetched idea, you haven't met Flavia. She lives in a crumbling country house with her two horrible older sisters Daffy (Daphne) and Feely (Ophelia), rides an ancient bicycle called Gladys, and spends a good deal of time performing complex experiments in her Victorian chemistry laboratory. Precociously brilliant, she is always streets ahead of the adults she has to deal with, though also sometimes both delightfully naive -- she isn't quite sure what a love affair might actually involve -- and occasionally vulnerable -- Daffy and Feely enjoy reducing her to tears by telling her, quiite untruthfully, that she is an adopted child and does not belong in the family at all.
At the start of this novel, Flavia encounters a most unusual couple, who end up in the village after their van has broken down. The man is Rupert Porson, a famous puppeteer (though Flavia, who does not have a TV, has never heard of him), and his companion and assistant Nialla. As the van will take several days to mend, Rupert agrees to put on a puppet show in the village hall. But during his performance of Jack and the Beanstalk, a shocking murder takes place, and it is up to Flavia to solve it. In doing so, she uncovers an extraordinary and complicated web of inter-relationships and when the truth is finally revealed, the facts about an earlier tragedy also come to light.
The novel is set in 1950s England and extremely convincingly so, I thought, despite the fact that the author is Canadian -- you can read more about him and his books on his website. There's a wonderful set of bizarre characters and the solution to the mystery is just oblique enough that I didn't guess it. But what really makes this novel so outstanding and enjoyable is, of course, Flavia herself. Good fun -- give it a go!