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Literature / Flavia de Luce

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The Flavia de Luce books are mystery novels written by Canadian author Alan Bradley. By now, ten novels of the series are published, as well as an additional short story.

Protagonist is the young Flavia de Luce, eleven-year-old chemistry genius and amateur detective, who lives in the early 1950s in the fictional town of Bishop's Lacey near London on her family's old and a bit decrepit mansion Buckshaw. The de Luces are Old Money, just without the money, and with their mother being long dead and their father, war veteran Haviland de Luce, being emotionally distant and completely hands-off educational-wise, the three sisters de Luce — Ophelia, Daphne, and Flavia — are left to a lot of time to make each other's life hell and follow their own interests. Flavia's passions are chemistry, the extensive laboratory she inherited from her great-uncle, and happening to come across corpses. The police is not delighted to have a precocious girl investigating crime scenes with not too much respect for any laws but those of nature — even though, more often than not, Flavia is one step ahead of everyone else.

  1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (2009)
  2. The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag (2010)
  3. A Red Herring without Mustard (2011)
  4. I am Half-Sick of Shadows (2011)
  5. Speaking from Among the Bones (2013)
  6. The Dead in their Vaulted Arches (2014)
  7. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust (2015)
  8. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd (2016)
  9. The Grave's a Fine and Private Place (2018)
  10. The Golden Tresses of the Dead (2019)

The additional short story The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse was published in 2014 and plays chronologically between the 6th and the 7th novel.

The Flavia de Luce novels provide examples of:

  • Affectionate Nickname: In their better times, Flavia calls her sisters Ophelia and Daphne "Feely" and "Daffy."
  • Ambiguously Bi: Hard to tell with Flavia because she's still so young, but while she describes twice what might be a bit of a Precocious Crush on two different men, she also has a tendency to start gushing about women who she thinks are particularly beautiful, graceful, or impress her with their charm or wits (like Antigone Hewitt and Mildred Bannerman).
  • Big Damn Heroes: Dogger and the two older sisters de Luce at the end of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie as they crash with the Rolls Royce straight through the wall of an old barn to save Flavia from a murderer.
    • Feely and Dieter at the end of The Grave's a Fine and Private Place, rescuing Flavia from the coffin she has been trapped in and knocking out her captor.
  • Braids of Action: Flavia's go-to hairstyle, two neat braids, are a combination of this and Girlish Pigtails — she wears her hair like that because it's practical and keeps it out of the way, but she also thinks it's a nice look on her.
  • Buried Alive: Almost. Flavia is attacked and left to die in a coffin at the end of The Grave's a Fine and Private Place, but is not buried before being rescued.
  • Character Tics: When Flavia is deadlocked in a case, she does a headstand because she feels it enhances her ability to think.
  • Companion Cube: Flavia's preferred method of transportation is a bicycle she inherited from her mother. Harriet used to call it l´Hirondelle, but Flavia baptized it Gladys and often thinks of it as if it had a personality.
  • Cool Car: The Rolls Royce Phantom, which belonged to Flavia's mother Harriet and stands in the garage almost entirely unused ever since she died. Though Flavia expresses her wish that, one day, Dogger will teach her to drive it.
  • Cool Teacher: Mildred Bannerman, Flavia's chemistry teacher in Canada whom she befriends quickly and who stays in touch with her when Flavia has returned to England due to being involved with the Nide.
  • Couldn't Find a Pen: Harriet wrote her killer's name on her wallet in her own urine, knowing the killer wouldn't see the name but an examination, after her body's recovery, would reveal it.
  • Deliberate Values Dissonance: Carl Pendracka gives Ophelia a pair of fine nylons for Christmas — in the early 1950s in England, those are hard to come by; as such, both Carl and Ophelia think it's a very considerate and generous gift. And then there's indignant Colonel de Luce, pre-war generation, who witnesses what he considers a cocky young man gifting his daughter with undergarments, which is why he burns the nylons on the spot, bewildering Carl and sending Feely into tears.
  • Disappeared Dad: Because he was a prisoner of war, Colonel de Luce was absent for about the first five years of Flavia's life and left his kids to be looked after by governesses, though Flavia hardly remembers that time. It's probably more present for her older sisters.
    • At the end of Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, he succumbs to a severe pneumonia, leaving the girls orphaned and devastated.
  • Dislikes the New Guy: Flavia develops an instant and persistent antipathy towards her cousin Undine who's a few years younger than her, just as precocious, and the new youngest kid in the house as she moves to Buckshaw.
  • Driven to Suicide: The culprits in The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag and The Golden Tresses of the Dead attempt suicide when Flavia appears to confront them with their crimes. Flavia (with Dogger's help in the latter) saves them, both times.
  • Dude Magnet: Flavia's sister Ophelia is seventeen (later eighteen) years old and a Proud Beauty with a bunch of admirers: Ned Cropper, police sergeant Giles Graves, former prisoner of war Dieter Schrantz from Germany who's now a farmhand / English teacher to be, and self-confident American Carl Pendracka. There's also her former piano teacher who apparently made inappropriate comments, which is why Feely quit the lessons. In Speaking from Among the Bones, she gets engaged to Dieter.
  • Elegant Classical Musician: Ophelia, who's playing the piano masterfully and charms more than one admirer with it. Flavia would never admit it, but she, too, admires her sister for this skill and enjoys listening to her play.
  • False Innocence Trick: Flavia has this one down pat, though it only works on people who don't know her very well. She mostly uses it to gather information.
  • Free-Range Children: While the sisters do have a home and a living parent, Colonel de Luce is very hands-off when it comes to raising his daughters; thus they are mostly free to do with their days whatever they want. Also noteworthy is the fact that Daphne and Flavia, respectively thirteen and eleven years old, don't ever seem to be going to school.
  • Hair Color Dissonance: For some reason, the book covers show Flavia with black hair which is prevailing in fan art of the character, too... despite Flavia describing herself as ash blonde in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Colonel Haviland de Luce and Dogger, who's his handyman, janitor, gardener, secretary, chauffeur, or whatever comes up as long as his mental state allows him to work. They were imprisoned in Japan during the war and have been through some awful (though never fully disclosed) things together, and after that, Colonel de Luce has kept Dogger around despite his fragile psyche, and Dogger has an Undying Loyalty to him that, in doubt, overrides even his loyalty to Flavia.
  • Icy Blue Eyes: A de Luce family trait that all of the girls inherited from Colonel de Luce.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: The titles of the novels, which are lines of songs, poems, dramas, or nursery rhymes that either play a role in Flavia's life or can in some way be related to the current case.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: The relationship between Flavia and Dogger, her father's handyman and permanent companion, is a peculiar, intense and devoted one. At times, it seems that Dogger is the only person who's really there for Flavia, understands her, gives her all the counsel she needs, and watches over her. Flavia on the other hand sees Dogger as one of the few people she has absolute respect for, is very considerate of his extreme PTSD, and doesn't ever allow anyone to insult or distress Dogger in any way.
  • Just a Kid: Flavia gets frequently underestimated because of this — which often plays out in her favor, because people are not as careful about hiding information from her as they should be.
  • Kid Detective: Every novel is about Flavia investigating a new case that's usually tangled up with a long, obscure past of the people involved. She's eleven, later twelve years old, in the novels.
  • Last Kiss: Flavia kisses her mother Harriet's corpse when the latter is brought home. It's also the first and only kiss Flavia ever gives her mother due to having been a baby when Harriet disappeared.
  • Living Emotional Crutch: Flavia functions as this for Dogger at times, as she has learned to handle his bouts of PTSD. Less overtly, she might also be a bit of this for her father.
  • The Lost Lenore: Harriet de Luce for the widowed Colonel, though she has left a gap in the life of everyone who knew her.
  • Minor Crime Reveals Major Plot: The Golden Tresses of the Dead: Human finger in Ophelia's wedding cake reveals a crime ring which robs the graves of the famous and sells the dust of their bodies with the promise of inheriting the corpses' talent.
  • Missing Mom: Harriet to her daughters, as she got lost in Tibet ten years ago under uncertain circumstances. Even Flavia, despite being only a baby when her mother disappeared, feels her absence in her life and ever again notices how much Harriet has really made an impact on her.
  • Mouthy Kid: Flavia all the way. Inspector Hewitt especially is annoyed with her habit to investigate crimes she has no business being involved with, but the fact is that Flavia usually solves mysteries quicker and more unfailingly than he does.
  • Nephewism: From the end of The Dead in their Vaulted Arches on, Flavia's little cousin Undine starts living at Buckshaw with her uncle and cousins because her mother died in a flight attempt after her crimes were exposed.
  • Never Found the Body: Harriet, after she disappeared in Tibet during mountaineering ten years before the start of the series. At the end of Speaking from Among the Bones, her corpse is found and brought home to be buried in the next book.
  • Nightmare Fetishist: Not only is eleven-year-old Flavia fascinated with corpses and various processes of dying and decay, she also delights in imagining her own death and burial.
  • Old Money: The family de Luce was this once, but by now, they have barely enough money left to pay the cook, Mrs. Mullet. Buckshaw is nearly permanently threatened with bankruptcy.
  • Open Mouth, Insert Foot: Flavia once, while visiting Inspector Hewitt and his wife Antigone, asks in a joking manner why they haven't had any children yet. Antigone gets very sad and admits they have tried for a long time. Flavia is still deeply ashamed of this months later.
  • Parental Neglect: Downplayed and strangely specific. Colonel de Luce makes sure his daughters go to church regularly and that they all have decent manners, has their health taken care of, employs a cook so they'll be fed, and fights tooth and nail so they can keep Buckshaw, no matter how bleak their finances look. However, he's emotionally distant and hardly ever talks to the girls about any personal matters. The three sisters are, for the most part, well-behaved, healthy, and balanced, and they're also aware that their father does indeed love them. But when it comes to expressing genuine feelings towards someone, they have ended up just as clogged as the Colonel.
  • Scary Shiny Glasses: Flavia doesn't actually need glasses, but she sometimes wears them for the sake of this effect.
  • Secret Legacy: Flavia's upcoming involvement with the Nide, a sort of spy web that's played a role in the World War and is still present and active, a position she inherited from her mother and gets introduced to by her aunt Felicity. Interestingly, while Flavia is still young, not yet fully informed about everything, and a bit of a wild card because she's so headstrong, she's already expanding on her legacy by building up her own web of acquaintances to people of interest, such as the police, overseas relations to Canada, famous authors, the movie industry, and even the government.
  • Shipper on Deck: While not being too overt about it, Flavia had hoped a little bit that, of all of Ophelia's admirers, she would choose Sgt. Graves, if only so Flavia would have a police sergeant as her brother-in-law and could discuss crimes with him. However, she's also not above promising to arrange clandestine meetings between her sister and Dieter, Carl Pendracka, or Ned Cropper, depending on from whom she needs information right now. When Feely gets engaged to Dieter, Flavia is not particularly antagonistic to him either, seeing as he's such a Nice Guy.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Though they also have the occasional fight among each other, Ophelia and Daphne usually team up against Flavia, who's no slouch in that department, either. Throwing witty insults at each other and playing pranks of varying cruelty has become a kind of sport among the sisters de Luce.
  • Snowed-In: Happens to Buckshaw in I am Half-Sick of Shadows, which provides the isolated circumstances for both the crime and the upcoming investigations — no one can reach or leave the mansion due to the snow.
  • There's No Place Like Home: When Flavia is sent to a boarding school in Canada in As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, her priority is getting herself kicked out of school so she can return home to Buckshaw.
  • "Well Done, Daughter!" Girl: Flavia dearly wishes to one day have a chance to make her father proud, but as things are, he doesn't even always acknowledge the existence of his daughters.
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Zig-zagged with Flavia. She's without a doubt a scientific genius, extremely observant, and shockingly manipulative in some of her social interactions. But at the same time, she has all of the enthusiasm, stubbornness and overconfidence of your average pre-teen, and sometimes, it comes back to bite her. She also solves murder cases and performs tricky chemistry experiments... all while still believing in Santa Claus.
  • Wrong-Name Outburst: In The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Colonel de Luce accidently calls Flavia "Harriet" during a talk, lost in his memories and not immediately realizing that he's talking to his daughter there, not his wife. Flavia doesn't call him out on it because she doesn't want to interrupt his reminiscences.
  • Youngest Child Wins: Of the three de Luce sisters, it's Flavia who gets sent to boarding school in Canada to be trained as a potential future spy, about to be part of the "Nide" to which her family belongs. Ophelia and Daphne, who are barred from this part of their family's heritage, resent her for it, but Flavia herself isn't entirely happy with her fate, either. She also inherited Buckshaw from her mother Harriet.