Category Archives: Alan Bradley

Speaking From Among The Bones – Alan Bradley

Any long time readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of Alan Bradley’s series of Flavia De Luce mysteries. They have become one of the highlights of every reading year (as they roughly come out once a year) as they nicely sit in the very middle of the crime genre, somewhere between the diehard crime, as it were, and the cosier mysteries. There is a wonderful mix of genuine mystery, intrigue and chills along with laughs, jokes and a lovely 1930’s domestic setting in a manor house. All in all a joy, so I was thrilled when ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ arrived and instantly devoured it a few weeks ago when it arrived.

***** Orion Books, hardback, 2013, fiction, 380 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

For those of you who have yet to read a Flavia De Luce story yet – and who clearly haven’t been listening to me begging you to do so which is, frankly, a little rude – then you have an absolute treat in store for you. For those of you who have I am preaching to the converted who have already roamed the corridors of Buckshaw Manor, especially Flavia’s chemistry lab in the disused wing, and spent time following precocious 11 year old Flavia, on her trusty bicycle Gladys, around the village of Bishop’s Lacey in the countryside of 1950’s England. This idyllic setting is also a place of many a murder, the latest of which Flavia witnesses the uncovering of at her local church.

“A cold shiver shook me. A goose had waddled over my grave.”

It is the five-hundredth anniversary of St. Tancred’s death in Bishop’s Lacey and so to mark the occasion, much to the horror of some, it has been decided that his crypt will be opened and his body exhumed. This is just Flavia’s cup of tea, dead bodies and putrification are her ideal table talk and should you wish to befriend her these (along with poisons and chemicals) would make you friends for life, and so she has to watch it all unfold. Yet when the crypt is opened a much fresher body is found in the form of the church organist, Mr Collicut. Who would want to kill the local church organist and why? Whilst the police are on the case Flavia feels that as she found the body, once again, the mystery is very much owned by her and so should be solved by her and so her hunt to solve the case and catch the killers is on…

For me the main thing that I love about these books is, firstly, the fact that I never guess who the killer is and, secondly, simply spending time with Flavia herself. As I have said, possibly many times, before she is completely precocious and has a certain rather high self regard and yet it is nigh on impossible not to love her. She can be spiky and vile with her sisters, which makes for much laughter, and yet vulnerable and a little lost when it comes to the difficult relationship she has with her father, and the fact she wants his approval so much, and the loss of her missing mother Harriet. Overall though she is plucky, passionate about chemicals and gives a lot of sauce to the adults all around her which we admire her and love her all the more for. She is one of my very favourite heroines of fiction, unlikely as she maybe.

“Where was I going to find decent lubricating oil in the bottom of a reeking tomb at two-thirty in the morning?
The answer came to me almost as quickly as the question.
There is an unsaturated hydrocarbon with the molecular formula C30H50 and the lovely name of “squalene”, which is found in yeast, olive oil, fresh eggs, the liver of certain sharks and the skin of the human nose.
Because of its extremely high viscosity, it has been used by clockmakers to oil cogs, by butlers to polish ebony, by burglars to lubricate revolvers, and by smokers to baby the bowls of their favourite pipes.
Good old, jolly old everyday nose oil to unstuck a good old, jolly old everyday mortise lock.”

Whilst this is the fifth in the series of books, and I actually think ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ is one of the strongest yet, Bradley is a master of giving new readers enough hints at what has gone before without repeating it for pages and pages for firm fans. We still have the mystery of Flavia’s mother and what really happened there which thrills and compels those of us who have been pondering it for all the books and yet I imagine would make new readers want to go back, and so you should.

Bradley also keeps things fresh too, each novel has made Flavia step a little further out of the grounds of Buckshaw and Bishop’s Lacey and so more and more of her world is revealed. In this latest instalment we visit Nether-Wolsey and the gothic delights of Bogmore Hall. We also get to meet many new characters, even if one is a chicken called Esmeralda – I did a small whoop of delight at this as, as a young child I had seven hens and a duck called Rapunzel, Flavia and I would have been best friends I feel, though I am not sure she would like a human sidekick much, a chicken and a bicycle seem to do.

“I glanced up at Esmeralda, who was perched on a cast-iron laboratory stand, cocking her head to keep an eye on the two eggs she had laid on my bed: two eggs which I was now steaming in a covered glass flask. If she was saddened by the sight of her offspring being boiled alive, Esmeralda did not show it.”

As you can tell, and it should be no surprise really, I utterly adored ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ and I think it might be one of my favourite Flavia De Luce mysteries yet. I have to say though, Alan Bradley how could you do it to us? The cliff hanger that you are left with is just too much! (Whatever you do, do not read the last line in the book until, erm, the last line.) How are we meant to wait until next year for a new book? How?

If you are a fan of the series, and its author, then you might like to listen to the latest episode of You Wrote The Book (and hear me being a complete fan boy) which you can find here. Who else has read ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ and what did you make of it? Who else is a big fan of the Flavia books, how do you feel about them coming to a screen near us soon? Who has yet to read her, again shame on you, but might give her a whirl now?

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Filed under Alan Bradley, Books of 2013, Flavia de Luce, Orion Publishing, Review

I Am Half Sick of Shadows – Alan Bradley

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.

Orion Books, hardback, 2011, fiction, 304 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

‘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.

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

A Red Herring Without Mustard – Alan Bradley

The joy that overcame me when ‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’, the latest Flavia De Luce novel, arrived on the door mat was quite something. I have been following Flavia’s adventures since I received an early proof of ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ and then ‘The Weeds That Strings The Hangmans Bag’ and each has been a pure pleasure to read. Then my joy wavered slightly as I had that worry of ‘oh no, will this be as good as the previous two?’ and so I held of reading… for a whole day when I could wait no longer. How chuffed am I then that ‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’ might just be my favourite of the Flavia novels, and also one of the most enjoyable reads for me of the year so far.

The only problem with writing any book thoughts on a mystery is that you really don’t want to give too much away and this is the issue I am facing writing about ‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’ because so far of the Flavia De Luce mysteries I think this is the most twisty and complex. It is still set in the 1950’s fictional English town of Bishop’s Lacey where the De Luce’s reside in the grand house of Buckshaw and it is indeed in the grounds of Buckshaw where a brutal attack is carried out on a gypsy who Flavia has given permission to camp in. Palings is a slightly spooky wooded part of the estate which of course gives great atmosphere to the opening of the book and makes it all the more thrilling.

Naturally the police involved, in particular Inspector Hewitt, don’t want Flavia to be. This is much to Flavia’s fury and indeed indignation as she has solved a few crimes for them for in the past. So naturally she starts trying to investigate herself. What turns up is not just the mystery of the gypsy but a murder mystery from Bishop Lacey’s past and one that isn’t as forgotten as Flavia initially believes. If that wasn’t enough as Flavia uncovers more secrets new light starts to shine on the very death of Flavia’s mother Harriet, all started off by her whimsical visit to the gypsy in question at the village fete.

Some people might say that these are cosy crime novels and yet I think in every one of Alan Bradley’s novels so far there is a real darkness, along with a certain camp, that make them so addictive. I also think his choice of Flavia as an unusual child protagonist with her character and observations are precocious, hilarious and blunt all in one, are spot on. You are thrilled and entertained in equal measure. In only a few pages, when discussing her sisters Daphne and Feely, you know you are in the mind of Flavia and the fun begins.

“Oh there you are, you odious little prawn. We’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
 It was Ophelia, the older of my two sisters. Feely was seventeen, and ranked herself right up there with the Blessed Virgin Mary, although the chief difference between then, I’m willing to bet, is that the BVM doesn’t spend twenty-three hours a day peering at herself in a looking glass while picking away at her face with a pair of tweezers.
 With Feely, it was always best to employ the rapid retort: “How dare you call me a prawn, you stupid sausage? Fathers told you more than once it’s disrespectful.”

I loved ‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’. Not only for its plot which is the perfect mystery with thrills and spills, and lots of red herrings, also because I got to spend more time with Flavia, more time with her family and more time with some of the bonkers characters living in the village. If you want a mystery that is entertaining, well written (and really makes you feel you are living in the world it creates) and will have you guessing then you can’t go wrong with this. 10/10

Have any of you read the Flavia de Luce books? If you haven’t then drop what you are doing and read them from the start straight away. They will bring you hours of entertainment I can almost guarantee. Which are your favourite series of novels, be they crime or not, and why? Any novels where you simply read them to spend time in the protagonists company?

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Filed under Alan Bradley, Books of 2011, Flavia de Luce, Orion Publishing, Review

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)

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

What Books Are You Excited About Right Now?

I thought I would do this post today as I am literally about 100 pages from the end of the latest and utterly wonderful book by Andrea Levy ‘The Long Song’ which I think out of all the great books I have read recently has probably made me the most excited about reading again. Consider the fact that I was only about 20 pages in when I finished work in the shattered state I did yesterday that is quite a read, she had me hooked. I already know it will be a hard act to follow, but I do have a few recent arrivals that I am hoping hold some promise of being just as good. 

So I thought that I would share with you that selection of books, recently incoming, that I am hoping have the same effect on me over the next few weeks as Levy’s book has. Which effect would that be? The effect of making me almost unable to put a book down, Novel Insights did a wonderful post on the effect this can have and the ‘bookish hangover’ it can leave. So the six I am very hopeful about are…

 

The Prince of Mist by Carlos Ruiz Zafon – This isn’t actually out until the end of May so gives me time to read ‘The Angel’s Game’ first which I have been meaning to do for ages.
Small Wars by Sadie Jones – I haven’t read ‘The Outcast’ but heard wonderful things and with its recent (as I guessed) inclusion on the Orange Longlist I am going to give this book my attention first.
Even The Dogs by Jon McGregor – I wasn’t sure about this one having not been completely won over by ‘If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things’ yet the premise of the book fascinates me and I have been seeing rave reviews left right and centre.
Mr Rosenblum’s List by Natasha Solomons – I have had a proof for ages on the TBR but have held back to read nearer its publishing date and now the actual article that will be in the shops has arrived and it’s a cover of beauty seriously.
The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley – The latest Flavia de Luce novel. I was utterly charmed by Flavia when I read a review copy of ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ over a year ago and have been waiting far too long for this, but now its here – hoorah!
Blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris – I am a fan of well known well loved authors doing something a bit different and this thriller is told through blog posts and comments which is an interesting way of writing a book. I wonder if the new style though was what stopped this getting on the Orange Longlist?

Naturally I am trying not to get too excited about any of them too much as then the book might not live up to the hype I create in my head. We have all done that haven’t we, wanted to read a book so badly we do and its not quite what we expected? What was that last book that happened to you with? Has it ever happened to you with a favourite author?

What books are you excited about this week, old or new, fiction or non?

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Filed under Alan Bradley, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Natasha Solomons

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley

I have BookRabbit again to thank for my latest read, the last one I chose as the BookRabbit Book Group read. Alan Bradley’s ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ one is an advance book (out in January 2009) I was sent to review for the site and Orion the books publisher. I unlike the other readers really, really enjoyed this book; in fact I thought it was brilliant. They all seemed to think it was more of a ‘young adult’ book – I am wondering what that says about me?

Flavia de Luce is your typical precocious ‘almost eleven year old’ all apart from the fact that she has found a dead snipe on the doorstep of her fathers crumbling country house’s front doorstep. This isn’t just any dead bird it seems to have been placed there as if in some form of a message to who ever finds it, it also has an incredibly rare stamp impaled on its beak. Flavia decides this is some magical mystery that she should investigate and does indeed to her finding something slightly more gruesome in the cucumber patch.

With her father at the centre of a murder investigation and her two spiteful sisters being only bothered with their own reflections and lives what is a precocious almost eleven year old meant to do than prove her fathers innocence and find the murderer. We are then taken along with Flavia as she goes about, on her bicycle named Gladys, interrogating people in the local village and following the clues and a few red herrings.

I loved the character of Flavia she completely stole the show for me, from her love of Gladys, to her scary knowledge of all things chemical and poisonous. Her sisters were brilliantly vile and her father wonderfully secretive. The prose of the novel is light and has a twist of black humour though sometimes the discussion of chemicals and also the explanations of stamps can be a bit much. I loved some of the strange villagers and their quirky silly names. Yes I guessed the ending and saw the villain of the piece coming a mile of but it didn’t stop me reading to the very end, why would I have when I was having so much fun.

If you’re expecting a thriller then you are getting the wrong book, if you’re looking for something that’s a mixture of murder, mystery, madness and mayhem then this is the perfect book for you.

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Filed under Alan Bradley, Books of 2009, Flavia de Luce, Orion Publishing, Review