I know I have made it official, well sort of, that I have given up putting books to one side for ‘a rainy day’ or ‘just the right time’ but in the case of ‘I Am Half Sick of Shadows’ by Alan Bradley leaving it until Christmas seemed the most fitting thing to do for that is when his latest Flavia de Luce is set at just this time of year.
‘I Am Half Sick of Shadows’ is a wonderful fourth instalment in the Flavia de Luce series. I was shocked that this came out so quickly after ‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’ and it being rather slighter than its predecessor, along with it having a Christmas theme, was slightly concerned that it would simply be a bit of a filler to cash in on Christmas (cynical, me, never) yet that wasn’t the case at all as like the series so far there was murder, mayhem and wonderful characters as ever.
We join the inhabitants of the grand, if slightly ramshackle, Buckshaw abode near the village of Bishops Lacey in the lead up to Christmas. Buckshaw is not feeling the full effects of Christmas, much to Flavia’s, the youngest of the family de Luce, distress as hard times mean that it is being used as a set for a movie starring icons Phyllis Wyvern and Desmond Duncan who, along with the rest of the cast and crew will be staying with the de Luce family for the duration. Of course this being a Flavia de Luce novel you know that someone is going to come a cropper and fall of their mortal coil, or have a serious nudge off the edge of it, but who will it be? Bradley plays his first trump card here as I honestly didn’t think it was the person it was, I actually thought they were going to be the murderer. Shows what I know doesn’t it?
I should actually change that to Bradley’s second trump card as really with all these novels it is Flavia who is the highlight of the novel. She is an utterly precocious child, one which would normally drive you mad in the real world yet as ever while she narrates this murderous tale you are smitten with her company and her blunt yet spot on descriptions of all those older than her and the way that they act. I also loved that, with her love of chemistry, she is devising a way of catching Santa Claus with glue though this did add a predictable element which if you have read the book you will know what I mean, I shall say no more for those who haven’t.
I don’t know about any of you but books set on a movie set always have a certain something about them. I want to say buzz yet that probably sounds a cliché. I love the fact there are always big dramatic characters, even if it is a cliché in a way that one is always a complete movie diva, and that there are always the underdogs behind the scenes. This is great in any mystery (and I did think of Paul Magrs ‘Hell’s Belles’ which I read earlier this year though that was more Hammer Horror than 30’s Hollywood, both genres which I like I hasten to add) as there are always a whole host of characters and again here Bradley creates a whole host of new faces to be suspicious of and for Flavia to dig the dirt on.
I also, sorry the praise goes on, liked the fact that as this series goes on we are getting to know more and more about the de Luce family, and slowly but surely finding more out about Flavia’s mother Harriet and her mysterious death – I wonder if we will ever learn the truth (I personally don’t think she is dead but that could just be me) about that? We also get much more insight into their servant Dogger, who is as we go on becoming a sidekick to Flavia. There are also her wonderful, and utterly venomous, sisters Feely (who seems to have the whole world wanting to woe her) and the bookish Daphne who is becoming one of my favourite characters as the series develops.
Daffy, as always, was draped over a chair in the library, with Bleak House open on her knees.
“Don’t you ever get tired of that book?” I asked.
“Certainly not!” she snapped.
“It’s so like my own dismal life that I can’t tell the difference between reading and not reading.”
“Then why bother?” I asked.
“Bug off,” she said. “Go and haunt someone else.”
That does lead to my only slight criticism actually. I don’t know if you would be able to start this wonderful series with this book, or if you did I wonder if you would be as hooked as you might if you stared from the beginning with ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’? I love the series and so this shorter, yet just a punchy and character driven, instalment was a welcome addition but if I didn’t know it so well would it have had enough punch or seemed a little light. I am probably not making sense there, oops.
I thoroughly enjoyed ‘I Am Half Sick of Shadows’ (I should mention the title comes from Tennyson, and these books do embrace literature and the written word in many ways) and it was a treat to curl up in a quiet corner by the fire with over the festive period. I am looking forward to the next one whenever it may appear.
Have you read any Flavia yet? If you haven’t you really should consider it? Which books with a movie set involved have you enjoyed, I would like to read some more of them.