I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, by Alan Bradley (Doubleday, 2011)
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is the latest instalment in the life of 11-year-old chemical mastermind Flavia de Luce and her somewhat dysfunctional family in 1950’s England. Where Flavia is, death seems bound to follow, and her detective skills both aid and irritate the local police.
This time, a film crew leases the de Luce ancestral home and the family will be celebrating a quiet Christmas sequestered in their rooms. At least the intrusion shouldn’t interfere with Flavia’s plan to prove (or disprove) the existence of St. Nick.
The equipment and cast arrive in the middle of an escalating snow storm. Add in an impromptu performance for the local community which brings in half the town, turn the storm into a blizzard that traps everyone in the mansion, let Flavia discover a dead body, and you have a delicious murder mystery in the tradition of Agatha Christie’s house-party type murders.
Oh, I think Dame Agatha would have liked Flavia! Hercule Poirot definitely would have enjoyed making her acquaintance.
This is book four in the series and although each title stands alone, there are ongoing relational threads. Flavia and her widowed father may be becoming a bit closer. She thinks her older sisters hate her, but one admits that’s not the problem – so what is?
Flavia makes a delightful narrator, with her child’s perspective and her propensity to view everything in terms of chemical compounds and poison. At one point she’s commiserating with her father’s faithful manservant-cum-gardener, Dogger, about forgetting things, and she says:
“Why, just yesterday I had a thimbleful of arsenic in my hand, and I put it down somewhere. I can’t for the life of me think what I could have done with it.”
“I found it in the butter dish,” Dogger said. “I took the liberty of setting it out for the mice in the coach house.” [p. 81, Doubleday Canada hardcover edition]
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is a delightful addition to the series, every bit as enjoyable as the book that started it all, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Expect a good ‘Golden Age’ mystery, but also expect intriguing and understated relationships where all is not as it seems. And expect Flavia to make you smile.
For more about internationally bestselling Canadian author Alan Bradley and his novels, see the official Flavia de Luce website. I’m pleased to see there’ll be another Flavia novel in early 2013. You can read an excerpt of I Am Half-Sick of Shadows on the Doubleday Canada site.