Monday, April 19, 2010

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: A Flavia de Luce Mystery (Flavia De Luce Mysteries)After reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie a few months ago, I was looking forward to the second installment in the Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley. In The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag eleven-year-old Flavia puts her chemistry knowledge, curiousity, and intuitive reasoning skills to work to solve an unexpected murder that happens under the noses of practically the whole town of Bishop's Lacey - during a performance of "Jack and the Beanstalk" by a famous puppeteer. As Flavia pieces the evidence together, it becomes apparent that the murder of a 5-year-old boy some years before has a strange connection with the current events.

Flavia de Luce is an interesting character: sweet (only when necessary), smart, and (slightly) sinister at the same time. I certainly wouldn't want to be her mother or sister or neighbor - but she is unique among detective protagonists that I have read. Her relatively young age allows her to investigate things with supposed innocence, while at the same time she has the knowledge and wherewithal to effectively poison any one she might choose. That lends a rather unsettled feeling to her exploits since it seems like she's searching for truth, but one's never quite sure of her motives, except in the case of her sisters where her motives are quite clearly vengeful.

But if Flavia is young and precocious and her sisters self-centered and snobbish, some of the other characters have more depth, most often the result of grief or suffering, which is slowly revealed a little more in this sequel. One feels sorry for Flavia's father whose distance is explained as a result of the death of his wife ten years before: "Father paid us no attention. He had already retreated into his own world: a world of colored inks and perforations-per-inch; a world of albums and gum arabic; a world where our Gracious Majesty, King George the Sixth, was firmly ensconced on both the throne and the postage stamps of Great Britain; a world in which sadness - and reality - had no place" (161).

And then there is Dogger, the jack-of-all-trades (from butler to gardener) who suffers from post-war trauma and is fiercely loyal to the de Luce family, especially to Flavia and her father. I think I have a soft spot for English butlers in detective novels, but Dogger is Flavia's friend and sounding board - they understand one another and appreciate one another's eccentricities. I hope we learn more of his story and that he figures more prominently in future novels (Bradley is said to be working on another already).

As for the mystery, Bradley offers just enough clues to keep the reader guessing, and each hint seems to point to a different suspect. I found this novel to have a more surprising resolution than the first, although it was still a bit over-dramatic. I think the life or death endings might seem a little formulaic if the author continues that trend, though I will probably continue to read the series just to see what Flavia does next. As I said before, she doesn't have the charm of Lord Peter, but it's a fun read just the same.

1 comment:

Laura said...

I enjoyed Alan Bradley's first Flavia book and have been eagerly looking forward to this one. (I know he has at least one more in the works.)

Thanks for reviewing it - I hope my library gets it in soon!