The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag – Alan Bradley

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)

27 Comments

Filed under Alan Bradley, Flavia de Luce, Orion Publishing, Review

27 responses to “The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag – Alan Bradley

  1. Interesting book! I really do like the Prose Partners idea Simon too 🙂

  2. Beate

    Thank you for your lovely review, Simon. I was feeling just like you when I saw that second Flavia book, but put it on my to-be-read-soon list anyway, because I so enjoyed her first adventure. I was somewhat hoping you wouldn’t like it -so I could sweep it off my list but alas – here we go again…. I guess I will have to give “The weed…” a new home, too 😉

    Like the idea of prose partners tremendously !!!

    • Hahahaha, sorry that I liked this one Beate. Its interesting as I know some people havent liked it so much because it had a more linear ending, its not quiet as suspensful as the first but makes up for it in so many other ways!

  3. I have the first book on my shelves, and I’d love to read it if I could find an extra day or two somewhere! I’m glad to hear that the second lives up to the first. Often that is not the case!

  4. I really must read The Sweetness…. everyone seems to love it so. Too many books too little time! Good to know when there are enjoyable series out there.

  5. I loved this sequel as well, and can’t wait for the next installment. Glad that you enjoyed it! 🙂

  6. So glad it lived up to the original! I really, really must start reading these books!

    • Claire you should they are a wonderful series. They arent quite cosy crime but they do have the lovely curl up with a good book feel about them not like some tense thrillers.

  7. I enjoyed that this sequel had a different feel than the first novel. I would have been disappointed if it had a similar pattern to the first. I thought that the darkness of the book even made Flavia’s disturbing poisoner thoughts come off a bit lighter than in the first book!

    • Yes I agree Kirsten, I think if it had just been the same basic plot and characters with just a different victim it wold have worked. I hadn’t thought about Flavia’s dark side, you’re right!

  8. I like your cover far more than the American one, I have to say. I can’t wait to read this one!

    • I haven’t seen the American cover, I shall go and have a gander and see what its like. I do think the cover for this and The Sweetness are rather wonderfully covered in the UK.

  9. I agree with you. I will look forward to the third (and fourth, and fifth)in the series as well. I have not “adopted” a mystery series author before but Bradley is one I will always follow.

    As I wrote in my review on my blog, I was just a tiny bit disappointed with “The Weed…”. I wanted to see more of the character Nialla. I especially didn’t want to see her hit the open road. I wanted to see more interaction between Flavia and the Inspector (amateur vs. professional detective), but I suppose that could only happen in the first book now that the Inspector respects Flavia’s talents.

    And I wanted to see Flavia in a bit more danger (I know, shame on me, but she would have escaped in the end!)

    Flavia is still precocious but never obnoxious.

    • Yes me too. Does anyone know how many there will be in the series, I thought I had heard six but I might possibly have made this up!

      Sorry to see you were a little bit diaspointed with this one I really enjoyed it. I know what you mean about the relationship with the Inspector, it seemed like the previous case had been forgotten but maybe that was the plan in order to help make it a stand alone book in its own right too?

  10. I have just posted my thoughts on this one too Simon. Unlike you I didn’t think this one lived up to the first book in the series – although I am still completely captivated by Flavia!

  11. kimberlyloomis

    I’m very much looking forward to reading this one. Thanks for the review, Simon!

  12. I liked this one, too! While I haven’t read the first from the series yet, I found that I also didn’t know what had happened until the end, which I really enjoyed. I don’t like being able to guess everything too early in the story.

    • I think maybe that was why with this book Bradley didn’t add the ending of danger from the previous book instead leaving it to the last minute to let you know who has been upto evil doings.

  13. I found The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie in the library yesterday, whoopee! I’ve been dying to read it since reading your review. And looks like the next one is great too.

  14. Pingback: Alan Bradley – The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag « Fyrefly's Book Blog

  15. Pingback: A Red Herring Without Mustard – Alan Bradley « Savidge Reads

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