A Field Guide to the Flavia de Luce Mystery Series

A Field Guide to the Flavia de Luce Mystery Series

Alan Bradley, born in Ontario had two older sisters. His father left the family during Alan’s early years. Alan withdrew into the world of books, often reading in a cemetery. His award-winning Flavia de Luce Mysteries, set not in Canada, but in rural England described an eleven year old girl who shared a family situation similar to that of the author. Her mother, Harriet de Luce, heir to Buckshaw, died in a mountain climbing accident before Flavia got to know her. Flavia had two sisters, the bane of her existence. Her father, so disabled by grief seemed more interested in collecting stamps than in his family or in rescuing their home from impending bankruptcy. At times Flavia escaped her woes by lying among the gravestones, imagining her own funeral and burial.

Despite this apparent sadness Bradley’s novels have delighted readers around the world. His work, translated into most European languages, Mandarin Chinese and Japanese will soon take the form of a CBC television series. His current plans proposed to extend the Flavia de Luce Mysteries to ten books. This Field Guide relied on the first three books in the series, but may assist the uninitiated.

The Time: The first three mysteries played out during the summer of 1950.

The Household: Within Buckshaw, the disintegrating ancestral home of the de Luce family, dwelled Colonel Haviland de Luce, who married his cousin Harriet; their three daughters, Ophelia (Feely) 17, Daphne (Daffy) 13, and Flavia; Dodger, a former British POW who tends the cucumbers, keeps the hinges and locks well-oiled, and protects the Colonel and the free-spirited Flavia; Mrs. Mullet, the less than award winning cook, and Aunt Felicity, sure to be played by someone like Maggie Smith in the TV series. The Buckshaw dynamic fit somewhere between that of Downton Abbey and The Addams Family, with a touch of Arsenic and Old Lace added for flavor. One of Feely’s admirers likened the three de Luce girls to the Bronte sisters, but Flavia insists, “Compared with my life Cinderella was a spoiled brat.”

The Setting: “Bishop’s Lacey, a notable hotbed of crime,” where murder and larceny abound. Maps of the area come with book two: The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag and book three: Red Herring without Mustard. In them, Alan Bradley painted a detailed panorama of the English countryside with the quaint and dilapidated, common and aristocratic, festive and melancholy, pressed together cheek by jowl.

The Protagonist: Flavia, drummed out of the Girl Guides for “behavior unbecoming,” described herself as, “a master of the forked tongue” whose “particular passion was poison.” She actually “poisoned” Feely, but found that revenge cut both ways. Since Flavia sat front-and-center at the death of one victim, “discovered” the bodies of two others and dug-up the details of three different suspicious deaths, you have to ask yourself, was she a master criminal, a psychopath or perhaps the younger version of Miss Marple or Father Brown?

She quotes Shakespeare, Dickens and the Greek classics on almost every page; translates Latin, comments on the masterpieces of classical music and art, but shines most brightly in her delight for chemistry and chemists. Yet, for all her vast knowledge, quick wit and deductive powers, there’s no mention of schooling. Flavia de Luce avails herself of libraries. She cleverly extracts information from human and inanimate sources.

You might say that Flavia was the product of home-schooling. Feely, an accomplished pianist, when not gazing at herself in the looking-glass, exposed her sisters to concertos and symphonies on a daily basis. At each meal, Daffy read aloud the best of world literature. Flavia seemed to have absorbed every note and word, although her reading tended toward chemistry, diaries, confidential reports and library archives.

While her more proper, older sisters stayed at home wailing, during family emergencies, Flavia, wearing her well-worn dress, sensible shoes and white socks rode Gladys, her BSA bicycle, “with three speeds and a forgiving disposition” to the rescue. The bike, which once belonged to Harriet, proved to Flavia a truly “adventurous female with Dunlop tires.” It faithfully served as an appropriate steed for this eleven-year old with mousy-brown pigtails as she courageously delved for solutions.

Flavia shared her mother’s free-spirit. She feared neither dark of night, nor rising waters, nor filth, nor graveyards, nor the dead, nor intrusions into forbidden buildings. Consequently, she often took her lumps and in the words of Jacques Cousteau, she barely escaped with her life. She sought recognition, denied by her family by solving crimes before the police had a chance. Unfortunately, the constabulary often failed to appreciate her efforts.

Alan Bradley wrapped Flavia de Luce in rich language and carefully worded detail. Her mysteries entertain, educate and encourage. It surprised me that the author confessed in an interview that he didn’t know much about chemistry before he invented Flavia. Although there was one diagnostic reaction that I would take with a milligram of sodium chloride, I’m sure that Bradley and Flavia will spawn a wild enthusiasm for chemistry and in particular toxicology. I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Bradley, Alan. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. New York: Delacorte Press, 2009.

Bradley, Alan. The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag. New York: Delacorte Press, 2010.

Bradley, Alan. A Red Herring without Mustard. New York: Delacorte Press, 2011.

(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Let’s make it a Quigley Family Christmas!

Save Saint Agatha’s Parish

With so many empty churches and dispersed communities, what’s so special about the pending loss of Saint Agatha’s Church? Although the closing looms ahead, this particular church exists only in the Catholic sit-com Ordinary. Fans grieve that the December, 2013 Kickstarter funding project failed to meet its goal of $30,000. Ironically, the story line for the second season focused on saving the parish from closing after a fire in the rectory. As Oscar Wilde reminds us, “Life imitates art far more than art imitates Life.” While the producers look for optional funding, let’s consider the implications for the Catholic Literary Revival.

Have you ever met resistance from agents or publishers because your award winning manuscript failed the test of “worldly appeal?” Did you hear, “the market salivates for something juicy and “Catholic” isn’t it? How would the market respond if “Catholic” themes, characters, writing and media became the latest rage?

Impossible?

Who would have imagined the sudden and profound impact of Pope Francis I on the world’s perception of Catholicism? Has the Grace of God achieved the impossible? Have other champions taken the field in this moment of Grace to clear a path for the rest of us? Isn’t it in our own interest that we assist?

May I argue that there exists a champion who represents a realistic and appealing view of a Catholic parish? As evidence, let the first season of Ordinary take the stand. Please invest about 100 minutes to view these four episodes.

The 2013 season reflects on many levels the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s timely, humorous, unflinching in its representation of Catholic beliefs and practices–realistic in showing the weaknesses and strengths of clergy and laity. Although a sit-com, Ordinary includes respectful prayer, honors the Divine Mercy Image, portrays parish structure and activities such as the Sacrament of Reconciliation, youth ministry and sessions of the RCIA program. It assists the church’s focus on evangelization. What better way to invite interest than to model the pathway to inquiry and admission? Most importantly, the writers, producers and actors portray the activities of Catholic Parish life as dynamic, realistic, current and hopeful, although a work in progress. Where else on television can you find Catholic Ninjas and Lego-animation of a gospel parable or a teen member of the youth ministry who thinks RCIA means “Our Central Intelligence Agency?” In other words, Ordinary says, Catholics are Cool! As such Ordinary clears the path for members of the Catholic Writers Guild and those who live and spread the Catholics message everywhere.

When you read the credits for Ordinary, the name “Quigley” pops-up under almost every heading. I wonder if the Quigley house was used as the Rectory of Saint Agatha’s Parish. It seems that at least two generations of Quigley family members participated. They also raised the $3,000 in production costs and contributed out of their own pockets to meet additional expenses. Season 2 would feature eight episodes beginning on Ash Wednesdays and Sundays in Lent and Easter, 2014.

Right now the Quigley family and friends could use some help. Let’s make this Christmas, a Quigley Family Christmas because through their media efforts, they clear the path for every member of the Catholic Writers Guild. Thanks to the Quigley’s toil in season 1 and hopefully season 2, Ordinary may begin to shift the tide in favor of all things Catholic and thereby advance the Catholic Literary Revival.

You can reach them through Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/ordinaryshow

The Hunger Games Trilogy, by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games Trilogy Boxset

The advantage of coming late to the Hunger Games is that you can have all three books available in case you want to binge through the nearly 1,200 pages at one sitting. Don’t you hate when one book leaves you in suspense and you have to wait years for find out what happened next? No problem if you have all three books in a neat box.

My grand daughters did binge through the first book long before I bought the trilogy. I figured, they’re young and have the stamina to stay up all night. By the time I reached page ten of the first volume of The Hunger Games, I was in for the long haul. I did have to sleep for four hours in the middle, but finished the next day. It took me a little longer to get into Catching Fire, but that hooked me for Mockingjay. It seems you never escape The Hunger Games.

Where should you store your boxed trilogy? I’d put my on the shelf between George Orwell’s 1984 and the original Star Wars Trilogy. The Hunger Games keep you involved with the action and rebellion of Star Wars, but leaves you without hope of ever escaping Big Brother in all his forms. Look around you if you think otherwise. Don’t we send our young off to be killed or brain injured for the bread and games of the Capitol. Boxing, football, hockey and other blood sports aren’t that far from The Hunger Games. Kids train on Grand Theft Auto and then go out and shoot up the neighborhood school.  We have a problem. Suzanne Collins brings it into focus with her wonderful writing. Think about its deeper meaning.

I’m Dreaming of a Blue Advent

Many lose sight of Advent amid the Thanksgiving-Black Friday-anticipated Christmas-commercial season. How can Advent hold its ground against this materialistic intrusion? Some regard Advent as “Little Lent.” After all, at least where I live it wears the hand-me-down purples of the penitential weeks between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Perhaps Advent needs its own distinguishing color to express its unique role in the Liturgical Year?

What is Advent anyway? It might be considered the season of Isaiah and joyful Psalms; a time of expectation and reassurance to those who faithfully await the coming of the promised one; a tender season of resting in the arms of our loving mother. Advent emphasizes joy and anticipation, not fasting and penance.

Some Christian denominations, including Roman Catholic parishes employ blue vestments during Advent. The web page of Saint James Episcopal Church of Richmond, Virginia explains this choice:

“Following the tradition of the Sarum Rite (an old English rite), Blue is the color for Advent. During the Middle Ages, when blue was an expensive color to reproduce, purple was often used instead. This is why you still see some churches using purple in Advent. Also, purple was used by churches that followed the Roman rite as opposed to the Sarum Rite. Theologically, however, blue is the proper color for this season, because Blue is the color of the Blessed Virgin, and Advent is all about Mary as we await with her the arrival of the Incarnate God. Blue is the color of hope, expectation, confidence, and anticipation. These are all adjectives which describe the season of Advent.”

Indeed Advent has a Marian flavor. It includes the feast of the Immaculate Conception and Our Lady of Guadalupe. It presupposes the cooperation of Mary in the incarnation and the nativity. So blue, a Marian color would fit the season.

Here in the North Temperate Zone, Advent coincides with the longest and darkest (and sometimes coldest) nights of the year. As darkness replaces light some humans suffer depression (Seasonal Affective Disorder). A sure cure for SAD is light, celebration, and a promise of better days. Again, dark blue skies connect with the theme of Advent. From those heavens comes the brightest and warmest of all gifts–the greatest reason to shed SAD in favor of JOY.

May the building joy of the Advent season culminate in your most glorious Christmas, ever!

RSVP

How do you separate the spirit of Advent from the Christmas rush?

In what special ways do you observe Advent’s joyous season of expectation?

Do you believe that the color (purple, blue or __________) of vestments’ would underscore Advent’s unique place in the Liturgical Calendar?

Text-(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)

Winter/alcohol ink on yupo(© 2013 Nancy Ann Mulcare)