What started with a dead jack snipe on the kitchen doorstep (postage stamp skewered to his beak) progressed to a dead man in the cucumber patch, and it wasn't really even seconds before eleven year old Flavia de Luce was ready to begin crime solving. She wouldn't call herself a sleuth, I don't think. But a chemist, absolutely. She lives in a mansion in the English countryside with her distant, widowed, philatelic (that means stamp fiend) father and two sisters--Ophelia, who loves playing piano and preening before her mirror, and Daphne, who loves to read. Both sisters largely ignore Flavia. She doesn't much care for them, either. The only person she connects to is Dogger (that's his last name), who somehow helped her father in the war (World War #2, that is), during which he suffered some sort of trauma that makes him a little unreliable. But he's interested in Flavia, in what she thinks and does, and that is enough encouragement for this attention-starved child.
The novel is told through her irrepressible voice, and Flavia shows both spunk and uncommon brain power as she deduces her way through the twisted web that connects the dead bird to the dead man. Along the way, she learns more about her father's past and gains a hint of insight into his character. She also succeeds in poisoning Ophelia's lipstick (not fatally, just enough to temporarily disfigure her lips) and impressing Detective Hewitt, the officer assigned to the case.
It was a delightful new book by Alan Bradley, the first in what he promises to be a series of books about Flavia. I look forward to reading more, and to finding out whether her mother really did die in a mountaineering accident in Tibet (I have my suspicions about that one). For those of you who enjoy an engaging heroine, arcane references to chemistry, 1950s film and stage references, and loads of (occasionally too many of them, really--two in one sentence??) quirky similes, this book is a great read.
Highly recommended. Thanks, E, for lending it to me.