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The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: A Flavia de Luce Mystery (Flavia de Luce Mysteries) Hardcover – March 9, 2010


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Amazon Exclusive: An Essay by Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce walked into my life one winter day, parked herself on a campstool, and refused to be budged.

It took me quite a while to realize that she wasn’t even faintly interested in the mystery novel I was attempting to write at the time: the one into which she had wandered. I found out quickly enough that Flavia wanted her own book--and that was that.

And it was just the beginning. There were still more problems to come.

The first was this: Flavia lived in 1950, while I was writing about her in 2006 and 2007.

As an author, it’s not as easy as you might think projecting--and keeping--your mind in a different century from your body--not without forever being yanked back into the present by everyday annoyances such as frozen water pipes, expiring license plates, incessantly barking dogs, and the need to shop for food.

Another problem was this: I lived on Canada’s west coast, where the clocks are set to Pacific Time, while Flavia lived in Bishop’s Lacey, England, which is on Greenwich Mean Time--a difference of nine hours. In practical terms, this meant that Flavia was raring to go every day just as I was getting ready for bed. Because there was no point in either of us being tired and cranky, we finally managed to work out a compromise in which I began awakening at 4:00 a.m. to write, while Flavia (rather impatiently) hung around until after lunch, waiting for me to show up.

As The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie progressed, I soon learned that Flavia wouldn’t be pushed around--especially by me. Because she had so many of her own ideas, she had little patience with mine. Occasionally, if I were tired, I’d find myself trying to put words in her mouth: to push her, as it were. But Flavia would have none of it.

"Blot that," she seemed to be saying. "Let’s back up and start again."

And of course we did.

Then there was the problem of the chemistry. While Flavia knew everything about chemistry that could be known, my own knowledge of the subject could be put into a thimble with room left over for a finger. If I protested that I was in doubt about the precise details of one of her more bizarre chemical experiments, Flavia would snap her metaphorical fingers and say, "Well, you can look it up in your spare time."

Almost from the outset I realized that the tale Flavia had to tell could never be contained in a single book. And that’s how the series was born. Fortunately, my editors were in total agreement!

We liked the idea of each book revolving around some now-vanished English custom, or way of life, and of being able, gradually, to get to know the de Luce family, giving each of them the time and the space to--eventually--tell his or her own story.

Of course, to convey authentic 1950s voices, the pacing would have to be slower than we are used to in the 21st century. On the other hand, a more relaxed narrative would allow for an additional overall richness of description that might not be found in a more breakneck series of thrillers.

But I needn’t have worried: Flavia had her own voice and insisted on being listened to.

It was I who had to do the learning. --Alan Bradley

(Photo © Shirley Bradley)


From Booklist

Flavia, the precocious, imaginative, and adorable 11-year-old sleuth, returns for her second adventure. It’s a mystery in itself how a mature male author can pen the adventures of such a young female child and keep readers believing in the fantasy. Flavia’s world is 1950s England—specifically, a very old country house that just happens to have a long-abandoned chemistry laboratory. And Flavia just happens to be fascinated by chemistry—particularly poisons. This helps her solve mysteries because, as Flavia says, “There’s something about pottering with poisons that clarifies the mind.” This time she becomes involved with the members of a traveling puppet show that features the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. When the puppetmaster is mysteriously electrocuted during the show, Flavia knows it can’t be an accident and eventually finds the murderer. The rest of Flavia’s family are also eccentric, to say the least, and add greatly to the overall fun. Thank goodness Bradley is not allowing Flavia to grow up too quickly; we need more sleuths whose primary mode of transportation is a bicycle. --Judy Coon
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Product Details

  • Series: Flavia de Luce Mysteries
  • Hardcover: 384 pages
  • Publisher: Delacorte Press (March 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385342314
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385342315
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1.2 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (287 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #484,560 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Alan Bradley received the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger Award for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, his first novel, which went on to win the Agatha Award, the Barry Award, the Dilys Award, the Arthur Ellis Award, the Macavity Award and the Spotted Owl Award. He is the author of many short stories, children's stories, newspaper columns, and the memoir The Shoebox Bible. He co-authored Ms. Holmes of Baker Street with the late William A.S. Sarjeant. Bradley lives in Malta with his wife and two calculating cats. His seventh Flavia de Luce mystery, "As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust" will be published in the US and Canada on January 6, 2015, and in the UK on April 23.

The first-ever Flavia short story, "The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse" has recently been published in eBook format, as has his 2006 memoir, "The Shoebox Bible".

Customer Reviews

4.5 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

132 of 132 people found the following review helpful By Nancy O VINE VOICE on February 10, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Second in the series featuring young Flavia de Luce, The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag has our young heroine embroiled in yet another sticky situation or two, trying to uncover the identity of a murderer who dared do the deed in the middle of a performance of Jack the Beanstalk at the village church. As it just so happens, Flavia and her family, including Aunt Felicity (a new arrival to this series) are in the audience watching as the death occurs. Flavia knows right away that the death wasn't natural, as does the family gardener and general man-about-the-house Dogger, and she sets about finding the killer. But that's not all that Flavia knows, and as she uses her observations to help guide her, other mysteries, long kept hidden in the little village of Bishop's Lacey, begin to be revealed, perhaps not to some people's liking.

Once again Alan Bradley has done a fantastic job relating the story of Flavia deLuce, that child genius who was first introduced in his first novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Bradley has not let up on his excellent writing, indeed, in this novel, the characters all become more real, more fleshed out, and he adds some new and quirky characters into the village of Bishop's Lacey. The mystery element of this novel is much stronger and runs deeper than in the first novel, and the reader finds himself or herself this time with several suspects from which to choose, all with their own private motives for murder. But once again, the strength isn't so much in the mystery, but rather in the other elements of the novel. For example, there's the struggle of Haviland deLuce (Flavia's father) to keep the family home, Buckshaw.
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48 of 49 people found the following review helpful By delicateflower152 TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 7, 2010
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
In "The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag," Alan Bradley successfully continues his Flavia DeLuce mysteries. Flavia, the precocious and wickedly funny heroine, begins narrating this novel while lying in the church's graveyard as she contemplates her own death. No, she is not thinking of suicide, but rather how sorry her family would be if she were no longer alive. Macabre as is sounds, Flavia's thoughts are so humorous that you will find yourself smiling.

While she is still in the churchyard, Vicar Richardson introduces Flavia to the famous puppeteer, Rupert Porson and his assistant Nialla. In exchange for assistance - Rupert's van is in need of repairs - the two are asked to perform in the parish hall. During the entertainment, Rupert dies suddenly; the circumstances of his death are, of course, suspicious. Once again, Flavia is drawn into the mystery of an untimely death. It is while she is delving into this matter that she begins to tie in the facts of five year old Robin Inglesby's hanging death several years before. Using her deductive reasoning skills and perception of human nature, Flavia is able, once again, to solve the mystery of Rupert's death as well as bringing to light the real story of Robin's death.

Readers who enjoy tongue-in-cheek humor; well-written, literate text; and good character development will delight in the Flavia DeLuce mysteries. As in "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie," Alan Bradley uses Flavia's family members and their dynamics to add dimension to Flavia's personality and character. The book moves along nicely and will hold your interest throughout. I will continue to look forward to other Flavia DeLuce mysteries; each has its own unique flavor and does not seem to be following a formula.
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27 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Janet Boyer HALL OF FAMEVINE VOICE on March 11, 2010
Format: Hardcover
"Eleven-year-olds are supposed to be unreliable. We're past the age of being poppets: the age where people bend over and poke us in the tum with their fingers and make idiotic noises that sound like `boof-boof'--just the thought of which is enough to make me bring up my Bovril. And yet we're still not at the age where anyone ever mistakes us for a grown-up. The fact is, we're invisible--except when we choose not to be." - From The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Book 2 in the Flavia De Luce mystery series)

Back for a second delightful chemical concoction, precocious Flavia De Luce pokes her nose in another mystery when the Porson's Puppets van breaks down outside St. Tancred's church.

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, a much more pleasant brew than The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (book 1 in the Flavia De Luce series), finds the plucky 11-year-old amateur sleuth (and chemist) embroiled in yet another mystery. This time, Flavia confronts a weeping, bruised redheaded woman draped over a grave and a polio-stricken TV puppeteer, both stranded at St. Tancred's.

As in book 1, Flavia experiments in her Great Uncle Tar's Victorian laboratory, finding surprising results as always (she begins with testing the crying woman's tears and moves on to a mysterious crop growing in Gibbet Wood's clearing). And, of course, no Flavia de Luce mystery would be complete without her using some odious chemical compound to foil one of her nasty sisters...

When someone ends up fried in the middle of a special, live Porson's Puppets show of Jack and the Beanstalk at St. Tancred's, Flavia knows it wasn't an accident--and neither does Dogger or the police that happen to be in attendance.
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