by Alan Bradley
A Short Story Review by Jackie Houchin
In this brief story, Flavia de Luce receives a mysterious letter from a local boys’ boarding school. “Murder! Come at once. Anson House, Greyminster, Staircase No. 3.” Never of a mind to miss a murder investigation, she mounts her trusty bicycle, Gladys, and despite the rain pedals to the scene of the crime.
Flavia is met by Plaxton, a green-faced, terrified boy who, as lowest on the totem pole of dorm life, lives on the very top floor (no elevators). He leads her to the “body,” which is reclining in a bathtub, covered (well, plated) from the neck down with copper. All liquid has since drained from the tub leaving a bluish ring. (Great clues for Flavia.)
The young detective makes a few quick observances and quizzes the boy, who swears he didn’t kill the man. He HAD to check on the headmaster after so long, hadn’t he?
It seems the man made a habit of bathing alone in the boys’ tiny top-floor bathroom with a “do not disturb” sign taped to the door. As Plaxton answers her seeming random questions, the clever Flavia at once knows the who and how of the man’s death and advises him to call the police.
She has but to verify it by visiting the man’s office and listening to the boastings of the other dorm boys. With this knowledge, she is able to identify the exact poison (her and the author’s specialty) and tell why it affected the man in this unusual manner.
With this knowledge Flavia has earned her first pay as an investigator!
“Copper Corpse” is a delightful, quick read, and a fun introduction to Flavia de Luce. Author Bradley has included all the things you love about his young protagonist in a much-diminished length. We see just how much of a genius she is without assistance from family or police inspectors. It’s just Flavia. And Flavia is enough.