Sunday, December 22, 2013

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows: Alan Bradley

This is my second Christmas-themed book in December. And again, it is a country house mystery, set in Britain. This one is a historical mystery; my first Christmas book this month was a vintage mystery by Agatha Christie (review here).

To describe the basic setup of this series... The books are set in post World War II Britain, in the village of Bishop's Lacey. Flavia is the youngest daughter (around 11 years old) in the de Luce family; she lives with her two sisters and their father in a very old country house that requires a lot of upkeep. Her mother died when she was young. Each member of the family is unique, and none of them communicate their feelings very well. Thus Flavia is an outsider and a loner, in her family and in the community.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is the fourth in the Flavia de Luce series by Alan Bradley.  I have read the first three books in the series and enjoyed them all. One of the most enjoyable elements of these books are the recurring characters. Some of my favorites are Dogger, and Aunt Felicity, and Flavia's oldest sister's many suitors, and Inspector Hewitt. I find Flavia's immediate family irritating, although we do get more information about each of them in this book.

The plot this time revolves around a film company coming to the de Luce home. Flavia's father has given them access to most of the house for filming a movie in exchange for enough money to be able to live there for a few more months. Eventually one of the visitors is murdered, and Flavia investigates, as always. The mystery in this book is slight, in my opinion, and I got confused at to the relationships of various members of the film company, but that did not mar my enjoyment of this novel.

I read these books less for the mystery and more for the picture of the times and to follow Flavia's story. When I read the first book in the series, I doubted whether Flavia as a heroine could sustain a series that I would be interested in, but so far she has.

In some ways I liked this one better than the others; I liked that it was restricted to the de Luce home, and that they were snowed in. I liked Flavia's experiments to prove or disprove the existence of Father Christmas. And I especially liked the further development of some of the relationships and characters. Dogger (mentioned above) is an old friend of her father’s, who handles just about everything around the house (except the cooking). Dogger and Aunt Felicity are fleshed out more in this book, a definite bonus.

I did not pick this book to read this month because of the skeleton on the cover, but it is a definite plus. And I did buy the 2nd book in the series at my favorite book sale because it was in good condition and had a great skeleton on the cover.

The author of this book is Canadian, therefore this book counts for my Canadian Book Challenge.

My reviews for the first three books in the series:
 The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
 The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag
 A Red Herring Without Mustard

Other reviews of this book: at Mysteries in Paradise, at Ms. Wordopolis Reads, and at Stainless Steel Droppings. I give credit to Carl V. at Stainless Steel Droppings for introducing me to the Flavia de Luce series. Until I saw his very enthusiastic review for the first book, I had dismissed the series.


Peggy Ann said...

I'm on the second one now, Tracy! Can't wait to get to this one.

TracyK said...

Peggy, I am glad you are enjoying them. I will be reading the next two in the series in the next month.

Bill Selnes said...

I have been avoiding reading this series as I have so many books I want to read but your review and other reviews have me wavering.

TracyK said...

Bill, I do understand having too many books and no time for more, but this series is worth a try.

col2910 said...

Ok- I give in, I have the 1st and just ordered 2 and 3a minute ago - what embargo - hey it's Christmas! I will see how my other challenges shape up in the early part of the year, then maybe sign up for the Canadian one in July.

Tracy, I hope you, Glen and your son have a fantastic Christmas and New Year,
Cheers, Col

TracyK said...

Col, I hope you like them. I feel guilty that you are breaking your embargo. Thanks for your Christmas wishes and I hope you and your family have wonderful holidays too. We are mainly relaxing... and watching movies.

col2910 said...

Hey, don't feel guilty - I'm kind of thinking 2014 would be a good time to start cutting back, so until then, I may sneak 1 or 2 in!

Enjoy your films and keep us all updated!

J F Norris said...

Didn't t like this one for a number of reasons. Mystery aspect was minimal, murderer was obvious, and it didn't really add much to the continuing mystery of Flavia's mother. I get the feeling it was rushed out as a Christmas marketing ploy. My copy has a special page with a To/From illustration for gift givers to fill in.

This is one series that needs to be read in order in to appreicate what Bradley does with that story of Harriet and Flavia, for me the one real reason I keep reading the books. I was glad when I read the next one -- Speaking from Among the Bones -- and found it to be much better. The story is a return to Flavia as she was originally conceived. She does more real detecting in that book than any previous one. I'm looking forward to getting a copy of #6 in January.

TracyK said...

John, given that the mystery was pretty non-existent, you are probably right about rushing the book out for Christmas. And I did not like the page with To / From place to fill in as a gift. I did enjoy reading this book, but I would not want all of them to be like this one.

I have heard that the next one is very good, as you say, and I will be reading it soon, in the next couple of weeks, so that I can be ready for #6.

Clothes In Books said...

I read the first one, but didn't continue - perhaps I should! I do like the idea of a snowed-in house - of course it is corny and unlikely, but what a good setup for a book. I did not know the author was Canadian, I'd assumed he was English...

TracyK said...

Moira, I have been surprised both at how much I enjoy the series and how much praise others give it. Maybe I only see the good reviews. I would not think a young narrator like this would appeal so much to such a wide variety of readers.

The secondary motivation to read the books initially was the Canadian Book Challenge.