Sunday, 10 April 2011

Book Review: THE WEED THAT STRINGS THE HANGMAN'S BAG BY ALAN BRADLEY

Genre:  Historical Murder Mystery/Cosy Mystery
Published by:  Orion  (April 2010)
Pages:  342  (Hardback)
My Rating:  9/10

About the Book:

The story opens with the immortal words 'I was lying dead in the churchyard' (spoken, astonishingly, by Flavia herself) and ends with a funeral watched by the De Luce family on a newly-installed television set.  Inbetween, Alan Bradley weaves a hauntingly nightmarish tale that involves Punch & Judy and a hitherto unexplored corner of Bishop's Lacey known as Gibbet's Wood.  The plot, beginning with the arrival in Bishop's Lacey of a travelling puppet show, features a grisly murder during a performance of Jack and the Beanstalk in the village hall and reaches back to an earlier, even nastier crime centring on an ancient, rotting gibbet that has lain like a shadow over the village for years.

The second book in the Flavia de Luce mystery series set in a small village in 1950’s England is every bit as good as the first one!

Flavia’s two older sisters -- Orphelia, obsessed with her looks and Daphne, obsessed with her books -- are still being horrible to her, telling her that she was adopted and nobody wants her.  Her father is still obsessed with his stamp collection and just wants a quiet life, which leaves Flavia plenty of time to go wandering around the village and surrounding countryside trying to ascertain who murdered Rupert Porson while he was in the middle of a puppet show......and after all, who would suspect an eleven year old girl of doing a better job than the police!

This time we are also introduced to Aunt Felicity (Flavia’s father’s eccentric sister) who comes to stay at the crumbling Buckshaw House to try and sort out the family’s ailing finances.  As we see life through eleven year old Flavia’s eyes we don’t know the exact details  but the villagers are full of gossip about whether her father will have to sell the family home.

I enjoyed reading Alan Bradley’s descriptions of the area --

Above me, Gibbet Wood clung to the top of Gibbet Hill like a green skullcap.  As I approached, and then entered beneath the branches of this ancient forest, it was like stepping into a painting by Arthur Rackham.  Here, in the dim green gloom, the air was sharp with the smell of decay: of funguses and leaf mould, of black humus, of slithering muck, and of bark gnawed away to dust by beetles.  Bright cobwebs hung suspended like little portcullises of light between the rotted tree stumps.

You almost feel as if you’re right there walking beside Flavia.  I really like Flavia and I also love the fact that she is obsessed with chemistry and even has her own magnificent Victorian chemistry laboratory at the south-west corner of her house.

This is a lovely gentle mystery which takes you along at a nice and steady pace, not rushing or hurrying to get to the reveal but all the ends are tied neatly up and you get a wonderful feeling of satisfaction that all is right with the world.  

The third book in this series is out now and is called A Red Herring Without Mustard.
The first book is called The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and my review is here.

For more on Flavia de Luce the official website is here

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