In this eighth book in the series, 12-year-old Flavia de Luce, budding chemist and amateur detective, is sent home to England from Miss Bodycote's Female Academy in Toronto. Flavia's father, Colonel Haviland de Luce, is in the hospital with pneumonia and Flavia's sisters (Ophelia and Daphne) and cousin (Undine) are at Buckshaw - the house Flavia's mother left her. The girls are being looked after by Dogger (the caretaker/guardian), and Mrs Mullet (the culinarily challenged cook).
When Flavia is asked to do an errand for the vicar's wife, she discovers the dead body of ecclesiastical wood-carver, Roger Sambridge, hanging upside-down on his bedroom door. Most people would be put off by such a discovery, but Flavia is thrilled. She adores solving murders, and hopes to get the jump on Inspector Hewitt - whom she considers her competitor in the crime-solving arena.
Flavia examines the body and the contents of the room, being careful not to leave fingerprints. Her investigation reveals a lottery ticket and a set of children's books by deceased author Oliver Inchbold. Moreover, one of the books is inscribed to Carla Sherrinford-Cameron, a girl Flavia knows. When Flavia leaves the house she sees a curtain twitch across the street, and knows she's been seen. So Flavia hustles back to the vicarage, and - pretending to be distraught - announces Sambridge's death.
The wood-carver's demise is considered suspicious and Flavia uses all her 'abilities' - sneakiness, lying, impersonation, chemistry knowledge, etc. - to try to identify the perpetrator. Some of Flavia's escapades stretch credibility - like when she passes herself off as a biographer to a London publisher (a 12-year-old kid.....really??) - but this is a humorous cozy after all.
During her inquiries Flavia asks Carla about the inscribed book at the crime scene, and learns that Carla's late aunt, Louisa Congreve, was close to the author - Inchbold. Flavia also learns that Inchbold - whose stories were supposedly about his adorable young son - was actually abusive to the boy.
Further investigation discloses that the house with the twitching curtain belongs to Lillian Trench, who's reputed to be a witch. Flavia is warned to stay away from her - but of course she does no such thing - and finds an eccentric middle-aged man staying at Lillian's house.....along with a cat! Could this be a diabolical witch's familiar?
It's not clear how all this is connected to the unfortunate victim, Roger Sambridge, but Flavia carries on to discover the truth.
Between investigative exploits Flavia tries to visit her hospitalized father, but Dogger reports that the Colonel is too ill for visitors. So Flavia makes do with Gladys, her bicycle, which she rides everywhere and regards as a friend. According to Flavia, Gladys likes to pretend she's being abducted and takes in the ambiance when she's waiting outside for her owner.
We don't see Flavia do many chemical experiments in this book, though she does fix bacon and eggs in her laboratory, using beakers and such. LOL
I admire Flavia's genius, but she's a bit too conceited to be totally likable (for me). Flavia is just SO gleeful when she's manipulating and fooling people - it puts me off. Still, it's fun to read about Flavia's investigations; her sisters and their beaus; Mrs. Mullet's not-so-tasty meals; and Dogger's devotion to his charge. I'll be interested to see what Flavia does in the next book.
Though the story could be read as a standalone, it would be better to have read at least a few of the previous books - to fully appreciate the characters. I'd recommend the book to fans of Flavia de Luce.