Friday, December 28, 2012

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: Alan Bradley

This is the introduction to the Flavia de Luce Series at the author's website for the series...
Picture an ancient country house somewhere in England. The year is 1950.

Picture a girl who lives there with her most unusual family. Her name is Flavia de Luce—and she’s almost eleven.

Picture a long-abandoned Victorian chemistry laboratory; no one ever goes there but Flavia. Put them all together and you’ll have a new kind of detective fiction . . .
I think it does a pretty good job of setting the scene.

 The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag is the second book in the series. I enjoyed it just as much as the first book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

I like the setting: post World War II Britain, in an English village, with quirky characters. Two minor characters that interested me were a Land Girl and a German prisoner of war still working on a farm in 1950. Such tidbits of history that I was previously unaware of add to the story for me.

The very young protagonist is interesting and intelligent. Some readers find her intelligence unbelievable but I was not bothered by this at all. I went to school with a lot of kids who were gifted in that area and they were a lot like Flavia. The author does well in moving into the second story without rehashing all that occurred in the first one. The reader can easily pick up on various recurring characters and the relationships.

But most of all I just like the way the story is told through the eyes of a very imaginative nearly 11-year-old girl. She is precocious in some ways, naive in others.

This book has one problem inherent in the amateur detective sub-genre. Or for that matter, any series that features a limited geographic location, a small town or village. There is an unrealistic proliferation of murders and bodies in a small area and a short span of time. In the first book, there is a dead body in the de Luce garden. In this book, there is another murder in the village, and this story occurs shortly after the first book ended. Thus, going into the book, the reader must accept these limitations and suspend disbelief. I had no problem with this. I was charmed by the story and how the author tells it.

If I could find any flaw in these books, it is that Flavia continues to concoct poisons to inflict on her eldest sister. Flavia is a budding chemist, using a chemistry lab set up by a prior resident at Buckshaw Manor, the family home. These are mostly harmless poisons but still... that isn't my favorite part. The antagonistic relationship between Flavia and her two sisters bothers me. But, the family is an unusual one, and these issues are not enough to keep me from enjoying the books.

If you are looking for more detail on the story and the mystery, here are some other reviews:
At Mysteries in Paradise.
At Chasing Bawa.
At Stainless Steel Droppings, where I was first enticed to try the series.

This is the third book I have read for the Canadian Book Challenge 6, which began in July of 2012. I have 10 more books to read for that challenge in the first 6 months of 2013.


Unknown said...

This series really interests me, several people have recommended it to me but I'm yet to pick up a copy of the first in the series. Do you think they need to be read in order?


Anonymous said...

Tracy - I understand what you mean about the poisons and the animosity. But honestly, I really like Flavia as an innovative and interesting protagonist. Bradley's done I think such a good job of adding some freshness with this series. Thanks for highlighting this one.

TracyK said...

Between the first two books, I would say either could be read first and it would not matter much. Both of the first two books give you about the same amount of background on the family and village relationships. On the other hand Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings advised starting with the first one (in the comments on his review). I cannot say whether it would work to start with the 3rd or 4th book though.

TracyK said...

Margot, I really was amazed at how much I liked this series. It seemed the opposite of my "type" of book... too cute, too cozy. Just goes to show you how important it is too have an open mind.

Sarah said...

I've read a few of these books and I always enjoy them. I haven't read them (I don't think) in any particular order and I think they all stand up by themselves. They are very gentle, intelligent reads.

Susanne said...

I've really enjoyed this series as well, read the first two. And having two sisters myself - I'm the middle one - I just smile at Flavia's concoctions - they are mostly harmless.

Peggy Ann said...

Canadian Challenge! I have 9 more to go...I need to check out this series then!