Alan Bradley – The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
7. The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley (2010)
The Buckshaw Chronicles, Book 2
Read my review of book:
1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Length: 366 pages
Genre: Mystery, Historical Fiction
Started: 12 January 2011
Finished: 13 January 2011
Where did it come from? The library booksale.
Why do I have it? I really enjoyed the first Flavia de Luce book.
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 18 December 2010.
Are a bike and a
chemistry set enough to
stop a murderer?
Summary: Flavia de Luce is an accomplished chemist (particularly interested in poisons), a dab hand at solving murders, and also eleven years old. Her tiny post-WWII British hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey hardly seems a likely setting for murder, but when a famous puppetteer – who is stuck in town with a broken-down van – dies horribly in the middle of a performance, Flavia’s on the case. She’s convinced that it’s murder, and despite repeated warnings from the police and other grown-ups to stay out of things, she’s determined to get to the bottom of it. As she investigates, she can’t help but be struck by the number of ties to another local death – a tragic accident several years previously, involving a young boy – but how can Flavia hope to prove it, armed with nothing but her great-uncle’s chemistry set and her trusty bicycle Gladys?
Review: I picked up this book while I was in the middle of a long streak of “just-okay”-to-”not-so-good” books, a streak that had all of the signs of turning into a reading slump. I wanted something that I could rely on to be good; something with compelling characters and an interesting story, something that didn’t take itself too seriously and that I would actually be excited about reading. Since I thought Bradley’s first book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, was all of those things, I pulled The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag off the stack… and sure enough, it didn’t disappoint. Compelling, absorbing, and funny, I tore through this book, and it promptly kicked my incipient reading slump right in the pants.
There were a few things about this book that I would have changed if I could, however. It’s a bit of a slow starter, with a lot of build-up: the murder that Flavia is investigating doesn’t happen until almost exactly the half-way point. I find Flavia and her adventures interesting enough that I didn’t really mind, but if you’re anxious to get to the murder mystery, the slow beginning might seem like stalling or filler. This book also didn’t have quite the bang-up finish I was expecting; the solution to the mystery and its denouement is… quieter, maybe?… than in Bradley’s first book. Actually, the whole book’s a little bit quieter; Flavia’s also not ever in any danger of anything more than a scolding, while in the first book she spends a lot more time interacting with (and getting yelled at by) the police and other authority figures.
The quietness of this book did allow for a little bit more introspective character development. Flavia’s brilliant, of course, but she’s also eleven, and while the first book had more of the sassy sides of being eleven – bike-riding and sibling-tormenting – this book gives us a little bit more of the anguish of being eleven – grown-ups that don’t believe you, siblings that hate you, etc.
“You are unreliable, Flavia,” he said. “Utterly unreliable.”
Of course I was! It was one of the things I loved most about myself.
Eleven-year-olds are supposed to be unreliable. We’re past the age of being poppets: the age where people bend over and poke us in the tum with their fingers and make idiotic noises that sound like “boof-boof” – just the thought of which is enough to make me bring up my Bovril. And yet we’re still not at the age where anyone ever mistakes us for a grown-up. The fact is, we’re invisible – except when we choose not to be. –p. 112
Overall, both sides of the coin combine to make Flavia a fantastic narrator, and I’m now eagerly looking forward to her next adventure. 4 out of 5 stars.
Recommendation: While this is technically a sequel, it could easily be read independently – the plots are unconnected, and there’s sufficient introduction of the overlapping characters that the books can stand alone. But both of them are great, and should be read by people who like cozy mysteries, sassy-yet-charming narrators, and kid geniuses.
Other Reviews: Amy Reads, Becky’s Book Review, Beth’s Book Nook Blog, Chasing Bawa, Coffee Stained Pages, Lesa’s Book Critiques, Monniblog, Necromancy Never Pays, Notes of Life, Savidge Reads, Stainless Steel Droppings, What Kate’s Reading
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.
First Line: I was lying dead in the churchyard.
Vocab: (see the whole list)
- p. 12: ““Last week, the hectograph sheets for the parish bulletin, the week before, a brass doorknob from the vestry.”” – a process for making copies of a letter, memorandum, etc., from a prepared gelatin surface to which the original writing has been transferred.
- p. 23: “…Thomas Neill Cream, Hawley Harvey Crippen, and George Chapman (remarkable, isn’t it, that so many of the great poisoners’ names begin with the letter C?), who with strychnine, hyoscine, and antimony respectively, sent a veritable army of wives and other women marching to their graves…” – scopolamine, a colorless, syrupy, water-soluble alkaloid, C 1 7 H 2 1 NO 4 , obtained from certain plants of the nightshade family, used chiefly as a sedative and mydriatic and to alleviate the symptoms of motion sickness.
- p. 31: “It was after all Cynthia, with her rodent features, who had once caught me teetering tiptoe on the altar of St. Tancred’s using one of Father’s straight razors to scrape a sample of blue zafre from a medieval stained-glass window.” – an artificial mixture, resembling smalt, containing cobalt oxide and, usually, silica, used to produce a blue color in glass and in ceramic glazes.
- p. 88: “In spite of the heat, she was wearing a long, light-colored motoring coat and a great solar topee, which was tied under her chin with a broad blue ribbon.” – a lightweight helmet or sun hat made from the pith of the sola plant.
- p. 251: “I was sure of it, for there on the right was the dark rectangular mark where the box had reposed since horse-drawn charabancs had rumbled past it in the high street.” – a large bus used on sightseeing tours, esp. one with open sides and no center aisle.
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