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The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: A Flavia de Luce Novel Paperback – February 8, 2011
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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)
--This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
Top customer reviews
A puppeteer and his girlfriend have come to Bishop's Lacey, the village where Flavia lives, to put on a puppet show. At the second
performance, the puppeteer is electrocuted. Inspecter Hewitt, at first, thought it was an accident. However, it was Flavia who pointed out that it could not have been an accident, but,in fact, was murder. Flavia proceeds to investigate, and also to look into another death that occurred five years prior to the puppeteer's death. Flavia amazes the Inspector when she identifies the murderer, and connects the death that took place five years before with that of the puppeteer's murder. She explains exactly how the puppeteer's murder occurred. As I said, she's a genius.
Flavia lives with her father and two sisters who hate her. She is abused by her sisters. Her sister Feely, a corruption of Ophelia, called her into her room one afternoon. Her sister Daffy, a corruption of Daphne, was also there. Feely told Flavia she had to leave the house; she said she wasn't wanted there and she said they were going to send her to a home for unwed mothers. Daffy was in full agreement. Flavia was on the brink of tears, but held back. She turned around and walked out of Feely's room and closed the door behind her.
There is one character of interest in this book, namely Dieter. He is a German POW who works on a farm, and is an Anglophile with a love of British literature, especially the Brontes.. I could not understand why a German POW was still in England five years after WWII ended. So I googled it for information. I learned that in 1947, 25% of the land work force in England was comprised of German POWs. The British Parliament was not pleased and feared that the British would be viewed as treating German POWs as "slaves." They thus sought to repatriate them. However, by the end of 1948, 24,000 German POWs chose to remain voluntarily in Britain.
I highly recommend this book. It is well worth the read. Flavia is a charming, brilliant protagonist.
I know a lot of readers think Flavia is too smart by far to be only 11 but I can remember at that age being obsessed with astronomy and the space race and reading everything I could about it so we shouldn't underestimate what a super bright kid like Flavia could get up to left to her own devices. Having access to her Uncle Tar's chemistry lab and books would have been a goldmine to her.
This is a stronger plot than the first book in the series involving a puppeteer, some illegal substances and the death of a small boy some years previously. Very entertaining!
In this installment, Flavia becomes involved with a traveling puppeteer who has a show on the BBC, a shocking murder and ripples from the death of young boy, alone in the woods.
It's a decent mystery in it's own right, steeped in the atmosphere of rural England after the Second World War, but what makes it exceptional is Flavia De Luce herself.
She is a wonderfully wrought character: dauntless, clever, manipulative, and eccentric in the great English aristo tradition. She is fascinated by and skilled in making poisons. She knows how to get people to tell things they would never otherwise reveal and she is relentless in her quest to find out who did what and why.
All this makes her rather intimidating. Flavia knows this of course. At one point, when she shows too much insight into the affairs of a young woman she is helping, the young woman points it out to her:
“You are terrifying,” Nialla said. “You really are. Do you know that?” We were sitting on a slab tomb in the churchyard as I waited for the sun to dry my feverish face. Nialla put away her lipstick and rummaged in her bag for a comb. “Yes,” I said, matter-of-factly. It was true—and there was no use denying it.'
During the denouement, Flavia reveals a crucial piece of information to the Detective Inspector debriefing her. When he turns to his team, demanding to know why they didn't know this, the response is:
"With respect, sir." Sergeant Woolmer ventured, "it could be because we're not Miss De Luce
For all her ferocious intellect and startling preciosity, she is still an eleven year old girl. She is observant enough to uncover and affair but innocent enough not to be entirely sure exactly what is involved in such an undertaking.
She is also a lonely girl without enough love in her life. Her elder sisters treat her badly. Her father is distant, repressed and as obsessed with stamps as Falvia is with poisons. Her mother is dead and her only connection to her is to sit in the Rolls she owned or to ride the bike she used, which she has rechristened Gladys and sometimes treats as if it were sentient.
Flavia is not a girl who is trying to be older. Above all she seems to be trying just to be herself which she does with great self-assurance. When she turns up late (again) and her father describes her as "Utterly unreliable:" she thinks to herself
Of course I was! It was one of the things I loved most about myself. Eleven-year-olds are supposed to be unreliable.
Flavia knows that she is willing to overstep the bounds of politeness and perhaps even decency, to get the infomation she wants but she's reconciled to that aspect of herself. She says:
Sometimes I hated myself. But not for long.
This was a delightful read and a pleasing sequel. I will be back for more.
Most recent customer reviews
No violence - although it is spoken of
Very limited strong language
Appropriate for strong middle school readers up to...Read more