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