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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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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 an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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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
Something as simple as the breakdown of a van was the catalyst for involving the people of the hamlet of Bishop's Lacy in murder. This second story in the series involves the entire population of the village when the famous puppeteer agrees to put on a show in the church hall to pay the expenses for fixing his van. The world of Flavia de Luce in 1950's England is once more brought brilliantly to life by Alan Bradley. All of the characters we met were very interesting for me and the sheer number introduced made the solving of this mystery very much harder than in the first novel. There were hidden things going on in the background of this small community which came to light as Flavia and the police began to investigate who had committed this murder.
I really enjoy the way Bradley has written the character of Flavia here. There is more humor in this book than in the first and it really solidified my liking for Flavia as a person. In all honesty I must say that I had never noticed before how many of the worlds most infamous (or should that be famous?) poisoners had names beginning with the letter "C". Now that's the kind of interactions Bradley makes his character have with the reader that allows me to think that Flavia could walk into this room right now and I could hold a conversation with her. She and I would get along just fine. Mysteries are a passion of mine also, and poison has always been my "weapon of choice", so to speak. She could run rings around me when it comes to knowledge of chemistry and all it's wonders, but otherwise, she's your average highly intelligent 11 year old girl who solves murder mysteries without benefit of all the information the police have.
In all seriousness, there is nothing "average" about this book. Flavia is a delight, the pages are filled with both humor and pathos, the mystery is well constructed and multi-layered, and the author has a way of capturing my imagination so that I feel totally involved and drawn into the story. Now the only question is how long we have to wait for the third book. I'm also of the opinion that if this author starts a completely different series, I will be right there waiting to buy my copy. Yes, he's that good.