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. There's also the introduction of a new character, Dieter, a former German POW working on a farm in the countryside, and how he came to be shot down over England during the war. Then there's Flavia's deep-seated needed to find out more about her mother, dead since she was a very small child. And Bradley hits on the exploitation of things that maybe should have been a bit more private by television producers for Auntie, the inside name for the BBC.
Let me just say that many people complained about the lack of a true mystery plotline in the first novel of the series, or thought that the whole mystery thing was flat and so would not care to read any sequel. Balderdash. If you can just sit back and relax, and read around the mystery and think about what you're reading, you'll discover that there is more to these books than some precocious child playing Holmes here. Bradley's captured a slice of time past and he does it well and most intelligently. I can very highly recommend this novel, and now I'm just sad that I have to wait a year or so for the next one.
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. The family dynamics, the colorful characters in the village where Flavia lives, and Flavia's unique perspective on life all combine into an entertaining read.
While the text speaks of death and murder, there is none of the gruesome and gory detail that so frequently appears in other murder mysteries. Further, the language is clean; Bradley employs no profanity in his writing. One would not have to worry about giving younger readers this book. The novel, which employs a larger vocabulary than is found in many contemporary books, is not a difficult read. It would certainly be a fine book for tween readers who are not frustrated by having to occasionally use a dictionary.
"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. When Inspector Hewitt questions Flavia (along with the other performance attendees) and insults her by saying it was "probably past her bedtime", she decides that two can play that game ("The nerve of the man!")--and withholds vital information.
The audience was *already* unsettled since the wooden puppet Jack looks just like the dead 5-year old Robin Ingleby, a boy found hanging in Gibbet Wood several years before. But when the show ends with a gruesome shock and the lights go out...
Mixing in a surprise visit from imposing Aunt Felicity, father's financial worries (they may lose Buckshaw, the family home), and increasingly cruel siblings Ophelia and Daphne, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag paints a much more sympathetic portrait of a lonely Flavia than book 1.
In addition, the multiple mysteries in book 2 are far more engrossing than the boring (to me) central plot of book 1 (philately!), with more compelling, colorful characters to boot. In fact, I enjoyed this book so much, I couldn't wait to steal aside time to read it, often staying up well-past my intended bedtime!
If you enjoy old-fashioned detective mysteries, the Flavia de Luce series brings 1950s England to life with a plucky, resourceful, lethally intelligent heroine. I recommend reading book 1, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, to become familiar with the setting, recurring characters and integral back-story (such as Flavia's mother's death in Tibet).
However, it's book 2, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag that sparkles with author Alan Bradley's fine writing, quirky characters (Mad Meg!) and absorbing plot. I'm eagerly anticipating book 3 in the Flavia de Luce mystery series; well done, Mr. Bradley!
-- Janet Boyer, author of Back in Time Tarot
Flavia de Luce, the junior chemist with a penchant for poison is back for her second literary adventure, courtesy of Alan Bradley. This second book, like the first, almost defies categorization. Is it a mystery? Sort of. A cozy? Not really. It is a young adult novel? Could be... but I like it too, and haven't been a young adult for a very long time.
Other reviewers have done a superb job of synopsizing the book, and I won't repeat them. Instead, here are the top ten things I enjoyed about the book.
10. Humor. Despite the seriousness of all the characters, the books are filled with wry observations, jabbing descriptions, and flat-out funny events, from attempting to poison a wretched older sister with chocolates injected with one of Flavia's concoctions to a description of Mrs. Mullet's quivering green gruesome desserts.
9. A glimpse of a time and a place far away. The book gives a good feel for the tempo of the time, the quirkiness of the town, and the people who live there. Each Flavia book lets you peek at the town, the crumbling mansion, and the ways of the day.
8. Fun with chemistry. Flavia is a rabid chemist, always experimenting in Uncle Tar's lab. I think I've learned more chemistry from Flavia than I did from high school chem classes.
7. The characters. We have a 13 year old detective who travels by bicycle, a father totally obsessed with stamps, Dogger the "valet" who suffers post-traumatic stress syndrome and has a heart of gold when it comes to Flavia, a horrifying aunt who seems to be the only one who actually understands/appreciates Flavia, two older sisters who cook up vile torments for Flavia, a family haunted by their son's ghost, a polio-stricken puppeteer who has boffed half the women in the county, Mad Meg who lives in the wood and collects shiny things... Need I say more?
6. Flavia's deductions. The girl is smart. There is no doubt about it. Watching her mind work leaves you a little bit smarter, too.
5. A splendidly twisted plot. Where else can you find a story that encompasses a puppet named Snoddy the Squirrel, an egg lady, a pregnant puppeteer's assistant, and a naked preacher?
4. History. What was it like for German former POWs in England in 1950? What were the war experiences of the characters? Read and gain a greater understanding.
3. Always a gripping cold open. In the first book, Flavia was hog-tied in a dresser. This time she's lying dead in the churchyard after the mourners say their final farewells. Can't wait to see how the third book opens.
2. The story structure. Bradley takes a tale and weaves it backwards and forward. He ties up all his ends into a tidy package. It is far more complex than it appears, because it is so clearly written.
and 1... because this is a big one. The best mysteries, I think, involve the unraveling of a twisted tale from long ago. And this is a VERY twisted tale, tracing back into the histories and stories of two people who should be strangers but aren't, the apparent suicide of a child years ago, some "gentleman farming" before it became as fashionable/common as it is today...
Put it all together and Flavia rides again. It's a fun ride... or read. I recommend it. Enjoy!
One of the things one must do when submitting a review is to check a box asserting that one is over 13. In over 200 reviews, I have blithely checked that box without a moment's regret. Twice, however, it caused a pang. First with the brilliant "The Sweetness st the Bottom of the Pie" and, now, with this, the second Flavia de Luce mystery. To realise that I am hopelessly too old for the 11 year old protagonist of these books is a blow to even MY decrepit fantasy life. For, make no mistake, Flavia de Luce is one of the great fictional females of our, any, time: Younger and smarter than Miss Marple; FAR nastier and diabolical than Kinsey Milholne (some of us like that sort of thing, dontcha' know?) And, without a doubt, destined for far greater things in this world than Hillary Clinton (What?! No, surely you didn't think she was REAL!) Flavia is even more delightful this second time around because she doesn't have to do as much narratively to convince us of her specialnesss, we already believe. Yes, there's a (very clever, actually) mystery, and yes there's as much suspense as there is just plain fun in the story AND its telling. But, really, the best reason for reading this book is the chance to spend another 350+ pages in the company of the young lady who makes "Alice" (of Wonderland) look like a stick-in-the-mud.
Flavia de Luce rides again. Aboard her trusty bicycle "Gladys" the eleven year old sleuth/aspiring chemist is off on another adventure. Her latest escapade is precipitated by a chance meeting in the local churchyard with a young woman named Nialla, assistant to a relatively famous television puppeteer named Rupert Porson. Rupert, it seems, has some ties with at least one of the local village residents and when the vicar extends an invitation to Rupert and Nialla to perform their puppet show for the locals, the mystery begins. As with Alan Bradley's first novel,THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE, this story also takes place in the small English village of Bishop's Lacy circa 1950. Once again, suspicious deaths are the order of the day and Flavia takes center stage in this unusual who-dunnit.
Flavia's family still resides in the crumbling mansion known as Buckshaw. Still present are the banes of Flavias young life, her sisters, seventeen year old Ophelia and thirteen year old Daphne, who take gleeful pleasure in taunting Flavia with tales of her unwanted birth and/or adoption and, as usual, Flavia continues to plot delicious and devious ways to avenge herself on her tormenters (her latest attempt at "getting even" involves a box of candy and noxious odors). The unconventional family is rounded out by Flavia's introverted philetalist father and her eccentric, outspoken visiting Aunt Felicity. Although Flavia's reaction to her sisters represents the typical reaction of an 11 year old to teasing, her powers of deductive reasoning, her knowledge of chemistry and her wild imagination definitely place her far beyond her chronological years.
To enjoy this book, please do not attempt to apply logic when it comes to Flavia's amazing and unbelievable intelligence. Just think of Flavia as wonderful wine ......you don't know how it's made, but the flavor is full and pleasing so you just enjoy it. 3 ½ stars
on April 8, 2010
Well, I read the first book in this series by happenstance and found it to be completely delightful. At the end of that read, I was delighted to see that this sequel was available and I ordered it immediately. When it arrived (yes, I'm still reading books on paper, if you can believe it) I couldn't put it down and I finished it moments ago. I have to admit that as I read it, I kept thinking "this is good, but the first one was better." It seemed to be a story in search of itself from one page to the next, and I kept waiting for it to find me as I longed for more clarity. I wondered if in the aftermath of his first, carefully crafted novel, Alan Bradley had been rushed into production and completion of this book. And then the ending was kind of ... I don't know .. anticlimatic? That said, I recommend the book higly, particularly as a follow-up to the first. I want to read a third in the series (and a fourth, and could one hope for even more?) because I love Flavia and her interactions with the other characters, particularly her sisters. I also greatly admire some of the more brilliant turns of phrase that Alan Bradley gives (I still think about his description of the librarian in the first book, whom Flavia noted to be "perishing with nosiness." That was my favorite line by far) but I hope the organization and rythm of the next one more closely resembles that of the first.
on February 4, 2010
This is the second of Alan Bradley"s books with a precocious 10-11 year girl outdoing the detectives in solving murders. The cast of characters include Flavia de Luce, a bright young girl who loves science, particularly chemistry with a strong interest in poisons. Her father, who is about to lose his regal home and properties because of financial pressures, is a distant dad most interested in stamp collecting. Flavia sisters are Ophelia ((Feely) and Daphne (Daffy). Her mother is dead. The story takes place in Britain in the year 1950. There are a string of other characters, a suicide (murder) and another murder, a puppeteer famous throughout England for live and BBC video shows, his girl friend and a large number of town folk, some of whom are unusual. Without betraying the outcome, at least one of the above is murdered. Flavia the crime solver does in fact solve everything.
The book is very well written and has considerable humor. It was less depressing than some other recent mysteries that I have read. It was fun reading it and I do believe this to be somewhat superior to the first Flavia de Luce mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.
I highly recommend this book.
on August 14, 2015
I didn't like this book as well as the first in the series, first and foremost because it had a very slow start. The true mystery didn't start until about the 40% mark. But the plot kept me guessing and the writer has many interesting turns of phrase (and a few antiquated British words thrown in for authenticity and spice, for example "pantechnicon" which means moving van).
One of the chemistry experiments was hard to swallow - lysozome as a pregnancy test. If it was so easy to diagnose pregnancy, they wouldn't have used rabbits in that day and age.
on December 16, 2014
Why can't Amazon post a simple list of an author's titles in order of publication? If you discover an author, you might like to read them in the order they were written, to appreciate the characters' (and the author's) development. Here's the list of Alan Bradley's charming, scary, funny Flavia de Luce Novels, as of December 2014.
Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce novels in order:
1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, 1/2010
2. The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, 2/2011
3. A Red Herring Without Mustard, 10/2011
4. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, 10/2012
5. Speaking from Among the Bones, 12/2013
6. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, 1/2014
7. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, 1/2015