Anticipation of a book can ultimately lead to its downfall and this is something that I was rather worried about with the second Flavia de Luce novel ‘The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag’ by Alan Bradley. I had been so wonderfully and unexpectedly charmed by Flavia in her debut ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ that though I had been really keen to get my hands on a sequel when it arrived I was nervous. Would Flavia be as entertaining or charming, could precocious have gone to annoying? Would Alan Bradley be a one trick pony?
Eleven year old Flavia de Luce gets embroiled in her second murder mystery when a ‘celebrity’ accidentally ends up in the village of Bishop’s Lacey. Rupert Porson, famous for Porson’s Puppets and the show ‘Snoddy The Squirrel’ – well this is the 1950’s, has broken down by the local churchyard. Flavia happens across his weeping assistant Nialla and decides, partly because its strangers and that might equal adventure, to help her out and befriend her. As a thank you to the villagers for helping him and Nialla out Parson’s puts on a puppet show for the town, everyone expects a spectacle yet no one is expecting to witness a murder.
Naturally Flavia, being the delightful precocious young thing that she is, decides that once again it is up to her to discover who the villain is and uncover several secrets as she does so. One such being how this murder might be linked to the death of a local young boy Robin who was found hanging in Gibbet’s Wood ten years prior. And secrets that have been kept hidden for that length of time tend to want to remain so at any cost.
‘The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag’ is a much darker book than its predecessor in the main aspect being due to a child’s death and under such circumstances. It forces Flavia to grow up a little and yet not too much as she never fully quite comprehends how dark it all is just as she doesn’t comprehend how much danger she could be putting herself in. That for me in part is Bradley’s masterstroke in terms of developing Flavia, she is still just as precocious and unruly as before yet she has moved on a step, fortunately for the reader she seems to be becoming more deadpan and that’s the other wonderful thing about this book, it’s very funny in parts mainly through Flavia’s observations.
“Of the many phrases that came to mind to describe Cynthia Richardson, ‘good sport’ was not among them; ‘ogress’, however, was .”
It’s not just Flavia that gets all the laughs. There are her spiteful sisters, who in this book get even meaner despite one of them falling in love, there is the wonderful ‘Dogger’man servant to Flavia’s father and many more of the villagers. One of my favourites was Mrs Mullet who cooks for the de Luce household, knows more gossip than anyone and comes out with corkers like ‘they had what they call an ink-quest at the library – it’s the same thing as a poet’s mortem’ the cast is marvellous too. But don’t confuse this with a cosy mystery as its not its just highly readable and very funny as well as being a page turner.
I didn’t work out the ending until it happened with this second novel unlike the first and so Bradley and Flavia outwitted me which I enjoyed. I do like feeling very clever and having figured it all out myself but there are more twists and turns and with an addition of an old mystery thrown in you have lots more to contend with. Add in Flavia’s dreaded aunt, a drop dead gorgeous German prisoner of war, a mad woman of the woods and a secret pregnancy and you have hours of fun, mayhem, twists, mystery and entertainment ahead of you. I think this series is just going to keep on getting better and better. Its books like this that make reading such a pleasure. 8.5/10
Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners:
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley (because to begin at the beginning is the way I like to do things)
Agatha Raisin & The Terrible Tourist – M.C. Beaton (not the first of a cosier series than Flavia – because I read the first one before I started blogging – yet has the wit and an unlikely loveable amateur detective too)