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Alan Bradley – I Am Half-Sick of Shadows

December 19, 2012

138. I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (2011)
The Buckshaw Chronicles, Book 4

Read my review of book:
1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
2. The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag
3. A Red Herring Without Mustard

Length: 320 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Started: 07 December 2012
Finished: 09 December 2012

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I really enjoy the Flavia de Luce books, I’ve got an ARC of the fifth book in the series, and it seemed liked Christmas was an apropos time to read this.

Ah, Christmastime! For
Flavia, it’s full of joy,
poison, and murder.

Summary: Due to the failing family fortunes, Flavia de Luce’s father has agreed to let a film company use their family home as a set for a movie over the Christmas holidays. The whole town of Bishop’s Lacey is in an uproar about the presence of movie star Phyllis Wyvern in their midst, and even Flavia is willing to put aside her chemistry equipment (and plans to capture Santa Claus using homemade birdlime) to join in the excitement. When the actors agree to do a holiday charity show, it seems as if the entire village turns up, and promptly gets snowbound in Buckshaw by a sudden blizzard. As if being snowed in at Christmas weren’t bad enough, during the night Flavia discovers that there has been a terrible murder, and everyone in the house is a suspect… including Flavia herself!

Review: Although the murder mysteries are not the primary reason I enjoy the Buckshaw Chronicles, I do prefer it when they’re good and mysterious and well-thought-out, with enough clues that I can almost but not quite solve it myself. And while the good news is that I am Half-Sick of Shadows had a lot of the things I like about these books, I thought that mystery portion of things fell a little flat.

Good things first: I love Flavia as a narrator, all smart and sassy but still only twelve, and she’s in fine form this book. In particular, I really enjoy her relationship with her older sisters, and there are some really interesting and surprisingly emotional scenes on that front in this book. I like how good Bradley is at evoking rural village life in post-war Britain, and with the entire village crammed into a single house, that aspect of things is definitely enjoyable. I love Flavia’s obsession with chemistry, and while I thought there wasn’t as much of that in this book as their had been in previous books, what was there was used well. In short, all of the aspects of this book except the central mystery were just as good as they’ve been in all of the previous books.

The mystery, on the other hand, felt rather shortchanged. In part, this was because it was sort of oddly paced – the murder doesn’t even happen until just shy of halfway through the book. I also thought that the new characters in this book – the film stars and crew – appeared on screen (as it were) far too briefly for the most part for them to be either of interest as characters, or of suspicion in the murder itself. The solution to the mystery wasn’t really guessable from the clues we were given, and seemed to come (literally) out of nowhere.

But, as I said, I read these books more for Flavia herself than for the dead bodies she keeps finding. And on that score, this book was light, fun, easy, and Christmas-y enough to be an enjoyable read. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: This book could be understood well enough on its own, but if you’re only going to read one book from this series, I am Half-Sick of Shadows isn’t the best one. Fans of Flavia, however, should find it a fun read.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Monniblog, Stainless Steel Droppings, Stella Matutina, and more at the Book Blogs Search Engine.
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: Tendrils of raw fog floated up from the ice like agonized spirits departing their bodies.

Although it is pleasant to think about poison at any season, there is something special about Christmas, and I found myself grinning. (p. 94)

I found myself wishing they had chosen a more exciting scene from the play, one of those involving toxicology, for instance, which are the only really decent parts of Romeo and Juliet. (p. 125)

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 17: “In the lead was an immense pantechnicon, its scarlet color growing ever more vivid as it came growling towards me through the falling snow.” – a large van, esp one used for furniture removals.

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13 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2012 8:12 am

    I’ve only read the first one in this series, and didn’t love it, so never went on, but now I’m regretting not getting up to this Christmas-y one!

    • December 24, 2012 4:44 pm

      Laurie – If you didn’t love Flavia enough to continue past the first one, I don’t know that anything in this book would be enough to change your mind. Although I am always on the lookout for a good Christmasy book or two.

  2. December 19, 2012 9:57 am

    I read this series primarily to spend time with Flavia so I’m sure that the lack of mystery won’t be a problem!

    • December 24, 2012 4:45 pm

      Joanna – That’s my feeling too, which is why I enjoyed it despite the balance of story elements feeling not quite right.

  3. December 19, 2012 10:44 am

    Oh, I’m getting farther and farther behind! I’ve only read (or listened to) the first two. I absolutely LOVE Flavia, and I must get on this! Thanks for the great review and reminder!

    • December 24, 2012 4:46 pm

      Annette – I was behind too! I got a copy of the ARC of the fifth one from LibraryThing, which finally motivated me to get off my butt and get caught up! Just luck that the timing worked out well with Christmas!

  4. December 19, 2012 7:54 pm

    I’ve only read the first book in the series but did find Flavia to be a fabulous character. If I decide to read another one, I’ll probably pick up book 2.

    • December 24, 2012 4:49 pm

      Kathy – It’s probably best to go in order – they’re not super interdependent, but her relationship with her family does progress over time.

  5. December 22, 2012 11:30 pm

    Hi, this is one of the few books I’ve read where almost all
    of the details made sense! And each detail meant something. When I
    find myself looking for other books by the same author, I know I’ve
    got something good!

  6. December 26, 2012 5:17 pm

    After hearing nothing but good things about this series, I bought the first book a month or two back, I really must read it soon! :)

    • January 25, 2013 2:04 pm

      Darren – You should! I think you’ll get a kick out of it; I hope I’m right! :)

  7. December 29, 2012 7:27 am

    I just finished this one recently and loved it. I thought it was a nice departure, in ever so slight ways, from the regular formula (and I don’t mean that in a negative manner) of the books. I felt like this one was even more about the experience of Christmas during that time period and a focus on the family than it was on the murder and I felt it fit the holiday mood just perfectly. I’m very much looking forward to the next one coming out in a few months.

    • January 25, 2013 2:05 pm

      Carl – It absolutely was nicely Christmas-y. I don’t usually read “seasonal” books at appropriate times, but I did manage to read this one during the holidays, which definitely added to the experience.

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