Review: The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

Title: The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
Author: Alan Bradley
Page Count: 364 pages
Publisher: Delacorte Press
Genre: historical mystery
Copy for review obtained via my public library

Back Cover Summary:
From Dagger Award–winning and internationally bestselling author Alan Bradley comes this utterly beguiling mystery starring one of fiction’s most remarkable sleuths: Flavia de Luce, a dangerously brilliant eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and a genius for solving murders. This time, Flavia finds herself untangling two deaths—separated by time but linked by the unlikeliest of threads.

Flavia thinks that her days of crime-solving in the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacy are over—and then Rupert Porson has an unfortunate rendezvous with electricity. The beloved puppeteer has had his own strings sizzled, but who’d do such a thing and why? For Flavia, the questions are intriguing enough to make her put aside her chemistry experiments and schemes of vengeance against her insufferable big sisters. Astride Gladys, her trusty bicycle, Flavia sets out from the de Luces’ crumbling family mansion in search of Bishop’s Lacey’s deadliest secrets.

Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What of the vicar’s odd ministrations to the catatonic woman in the dovecote? Then there’s a German pilot obsessed with the Brontë sisters, a reproachful spinster aunt, and even a box of poisoned chocolates. Most troubling of all is Porson’s assistant, the charming but erratic Nialla. All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve—without Flavia’s help. But in getting so close to who’s secretly pulling the strings of this dance of death, has our precocious heroine finally gotten in way over her head?

So I’m pretty notorious, at least in my own mind, for starting a series and loving the first book and then not keeping up with the series, right? Well, stop the presses, because I have continued reading a series in a timely fashion compared to when I started it.

That series is the Flavia de Luce series, which features, quite possibly, my favorite narrator under the age of 13 in any book, ever. Flavia is what could charitably be called precocious, which as anyone knows is a word that people use when they don’t want to say “that kid is annoying.” She’s smart as a whip (far too smart for her own good in fact,) terribly observant, insatiably curious, and has a mind like an endless filing cabinet. These characteristics come together to make a narrator who’s a chemist, an investigator, and a believer in justice, even when she’s not sure what an affair is or how to tell if her older sisters are having fun at her expense.

As I’m writing this review, I’ve read the next two books in the series as well (reviews forthcoming) and I have to say that as far as the mystery goes, this book’s puzzler was my favorite. I loved the descriptions of the puppets and the puppet show and I thought it was great the way the history of the town of Bishop’s Lacey was intertwined with the mystery of how the puppet man died and why it clearly wasn’t an accident. But who could want to murder a guy that, as far as anyone knew, nobody had met before that week? Well, read the book and find out!

This book introduces several characters who have repeating roles in future books, and their inclusion added some interesting historical aspects to the story as well, especially Dieter, the German pilot who was a POW but couldn’t bring himself to leave after the war was over.

Unsurprisingly, Flavia saves the day and puts the facts together in a new and unusual way, and I don’t think that’s a spoiler because it wouldn’t be much of a mystery if our detective didn’t solve it, right? One of my favorite parts of these stories is the big reveal at the end, where Flavia and the Inspector sit down and compare notes, and the Inspector tries not to be too impressed or too annoyed at the eleven year old that beat his own cops at figuring out the story.

I’m pretty sure I’m the last person on earth to start reading this story, but just in case you’re actually that person, I highly recommend making a place for Flavia on your TBR. My next two review slots are taken up by the next two books in this series, and then I’ll only have one book to go before I’m current! Imagine that!

A Favorite Quote:

I am often thought of as being remarkably bright, and yet my brains, more often than not, are busily devising new and interesting ways of bringing my enemies to sudden, gagging, writhing, agonizing death.


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