On his 500th birthday, the folks at St. Tancred's were going to exhume the venerable saint's bones. Only problem was that Flavia DeLuce looked into the tomb only to notice the decomposing body of the organist who had gone missing some six weeks previously, just at the beginning of Lent.
So, Flavia DeLuce, the spunky 11-year-old wanna be chemist sets to work trying to figure things out. Along the way she talks about blood analysis, lead poisoning, and all manner of things.
One of the charms of this series is the constant references to chemistry. I learned this time around that one must take the "science stuff" with a grain of salt. I know enough chemistry to think things sound reasonable, but my chemistry is somewhat sketchy when one gets to compounds with more than two or three atoms. But in this book there were a couple of "factoids" that couldn't possibly be correct. One was a temperature reference where they confused an increase
in 10 deg C with a reference that it would be 283 K. Nope. An increase
in 10 deg C is exactly 10 K. I would have expected that even a sophomore chemistry student would have caught this one.
The other semi-obvious error is more arcane. Flavia's Uncle Tar (Tarquin de Luce) had set up the chemistry lab, and it allegedly included a functioning gas chromatograph. Then they gave a reference to an obscure Russian who invented chromatography (paper) in 1903 or so. But actual gas chromatography wasn't invented until around 1950
, about the time Flavia took over Uncle Tar's laboratory. Uncle Tar, on the other hand died in 1928, well before anyone, Russian or not, had a functional gas chromatograph. The reason I worry about this is that I'm under the impression that my undergrad research adviser built the first functional gas chromatograph at Harvard University. That would have had to have been in the mid 1950s. There's no way an amateur chemist would have built a gas chromatograph some 25 years before one was built at Harvard (not to mention, at least 20 years before Martin and James developed gas chromatography).
But, scientific niggling aside, it was a fun book to read.