Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag (Alan Bradley)

Flavia de Luce is now one of my favorite detectives: witty, unflappable, a force of nature. We met last year through Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and since then I've been eager to be part of her new adventures. Good thing it wasn't such a long wait until The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag. In this mystery, Flavia (always at the right place at the right time) meets famous puppeteer Rupert Porson, of the BBC's children show The Magic Kingdom, and his lover and assistant Nialla. Stranded temporarily at Bishop's Lacey, Porson and Nialla are entreated by the vicar to put on a show at the parish hall with Flavia as their helper. But tragedy befalls and it takes all of Flavia's abilities -- from her genius at chemistry to her amazing skills at snooping and deduction -- to get to the bottom of this murder.

One of my favorite things about reading Mr Bradley's books is how each one manages to take me to the fifties through the eyes of a small community like Bishop's Lacey by using accessible language. Flavia lives with her rather unique family in an old, sprawling mansion called Buckshaw, and while that would seem like a rather sheltered upbringing, it is Flavia's tendency to poke her nose in other people's business that allows other people's fears, troubles, and insecurities to come to the surface. Mr Bradley does a fine job of capturing this slice of life element and situate it clearly in post-war England. A highlight in The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag is the beginnings of television and how even in its early years it captures an era on the precipice of change.

But no matter how skilled a mystery writer is in capturing the times, he will ineluctably be judged by his ability to write a convincing whodunit. In that aspect, Mr Bradley and Flavia pass with flying colors. The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag employs a lot of skillful misdirection but is able to conclude things in a clean and concise manner. The presence of Rupert Porson at Bishop's Lacey may seem random, but as in many well-written mysteries, there is more here than meets the eye. Flavia once again calls on her chemical expertise to solve this new murder but in the end it is her powers of deduction and observation that save the day. There are lovely character sketches here and there that continue to draw me into Flavia's world (not just the thrilling adventure she has each time a mystery comes in) and again, I'll be anticipating her next escapade.

NOTE: This review is done in response to the Whodunit Reading Challenge hosted by Mary, Myra, and Fats at Gathering Books. This is actually the review that qualifies me to be a Level 3 Mythic Crime Buster with a total of six mysteries read. Challenge technically over, but I think I'll keep on until I've done eight books.


Anonymous said...

I have to say Bradley's titles are quite interesting.I'm going to definitely add Bradley into the books I plan to read soon. And I love that its a female detective, then again i'm quite bias as I'm a Nancy Drew kid.
Anyway, thanks for the review. :)

dementedchris said...

He always includes where he gets his titles. The next one is The Red Herring without Mustard (or something like that). :) I hope you pick up this series and that you'll like it as well! :)