***Warning: SPOILERS for previous books in the series!***
Flavia de Luce’s life has been turned upside-down by the shocking revelation that her mother, Harriet, worked as a spy for England before her death. What’s more, Harriet was groomed for this work at an elite Canadian boarding school, where she belonged to a secret society called the Nide. Now the twelve-year-old Flavia must follow in her mother’s footsteps all the way to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, so that she can carry on the family’s legacy of covert service to England. But Flavia is less than thrilled about leaving Buckshaw and all her family and friends behind. Still, Miss Bodycote’s proves more interesting than Flavia expected when a dead body falls down the chimney into her bedroom on her very first night at the school. But whose body is it, and who would have placed the remains there? Was it a fellow student? The science teacher who was once tried for murder? Perhaps even the stern headmistress herself? Once again, Flavia uses her insatiable curiosity and her passion for chemistry to discover how, why, and by whom the victim was murdered. She also struggles to fit in at Miss Bodycote’s and eventually makes an important decision about her future.
This book marks a significant change in the direction of the series, as Flavia is uprooted from Bishop’s Lacey and placed in different surroundings with an entirely new cast of characters. Some people were skeptical about this change, but I was optimistic going in; if series aren’t willing to shake things up sometimes, they risk becoming stale. Unfortunately, I don’t think this particular change was terribly successful. The idea of Flavia trying to fit in at a strict boarding school filled me with glee, but this book doesn’t spend much time on her interactions with the other students, except as necessary for her investigation. And the book really suffers for not having Father, Feely, Daffy, and Dogger to be Flavia’s confidantes, friends, and sometimes enemies. I don’t read this series predominantly for the mysteries; while these are usually fine, the books’ charm lies in Flavia and her unique reactions to the people around her. And sadly, in this book, her social interactions just weren’t as funny, interesting, or poignant as they usually are. The end of this novel promises another change for Flavia, and I hope that the next book will take things in a more satisfying direction.