Review: The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, by Alan Bradley

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, by Alan Bradley (2010, Doubleday Canada)

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag is the second mystery from Alan Bradley featuring 11-year-old Flavia de Luce. The series is set in 1950 in rural England.

Flavia, her sisters and their father live in a huge old house, where she spends her happiest times in the lab of a mad (now dead) chemist.

The mystery surrounds a murder that doesn’t happen until part-way through the book. I knew it was coming, having read some promotional material. Getting to know the soon-to-be victim was an odd sensation.

A secondary plot thread involves the death of a local boy some years earlier, and Flavia is determined to get to the bottom of that too.

The world through Flavia’s eyes is an interesting place. She observes, rarely judging, and leaves readers to draw their own conclusions.

Although she’s a child, this is a novel for adults. Since I usually review books for the Christian market, I’ll add that it’s a general market book containing some mild profanity.

Flavia is one of those enjoyable fictional characters you probably wouldn’t want to live with. She has a dry sense of humour and a vocabulary that includes words like pustulent, pristine and diminutive, along with a variety of chemical terms.

When she successfully ducks an assignment from her father, he laments that she’s unreliable. Her comment as narrator: “Of course I was! It was one of the things I loved most about myself. Eleven-year-olds are supposed to be unreliable.” (p. 86)

Another character calls her terrifying, and Flavia tells us with all modesty, “It was true—and there was no use denying it.” (p. 90)

I suspect Inspector Hewitt of the local constabulary would describe her as terrifying too—but she does have his grudging respect.

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag is a sadder story to me than the first novel in the series, but it’s still a very good read with plenty that made me smile. You don’t have to read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie first, but don’t miss it!

Alan Bradley is a Canadian author now living in Malta. You can find him online at the Flavia de Luce website, and Flavia de Luce has her own online fan club.

You might also be interested in this interview with Alan Bradley in the Ottawa Sun,  or this article by Andrea Baillie of the Canadian Press.

The next book in the series is A Red Herring Without Mustard, releasing in 2011.  I’m looking forward to it.

Here’s a video trailer for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, to introduce you to Flavia. The voice is perfect.

Review copy purchased from Kobo Books and enjoyed on my Aluratek Libre e-reader.

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