The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: A Flavia de Luce Mystery (Flavia De Luce Mysteries)

By Alan Bradley
Binding:Hardcover
Publisher:Delacorte Press, (3/9/2010)
Language:English



Average Rating:
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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?
 
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Alice_Wonder's thoughts on "The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: A Flavia de Luce Mystery (Flavia De Luce Mysteries)"
updated on:3/25/2010

This is the second in the Flavia de Luce Mystery series. The first book was really good. Eleven year old Flavia concockting interesting things in her chemistry lab is one of my favorite characters. I wish she lived right next door to me!

DEFINITELY Unleash it


"The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: A Flavia de Luce Mystery (Flavia De Luce Mysteries)"
By Alan Bradley

Average Rating:
DEFINITELY Unleash it
5.00 out of 5 (1 Clubie's ratings)


The Gentleman
The Gentleman
By Forrest Leo

 
 
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Amazon.com Review
Amazon Exclusive: An Essay by Alan Bradley
 

Flavia de Luce walked into my life one winter day, parked herself on a campstool, and refused to be budged.

It took me quite a while to realize that she wasn’t even faintly interested in the mystery novel I was attempting to write at the time: the one into which she had wandered. I found out quickly enough that Flavia wanted her own book--and that was that.

And it was just the beginning. There were still more problems to come.

The first was this: Flavia lived in 1950, while I was writing about her in 2006 and 2007.

As an author, it’s not as easy as you might think projecting--and keeping--your mind in a different century from your body--not without forever being yanked back into the present by everyday annoyances such as frozen water pipes, expiring license plates, incessantly barking dogs, and the need to shop for food.

Another problem was this: I lived on Canada’s west coast, where the clocks are set to Pacific Time, while Flavia lived in Bishop’s Lacey, England, which is on Greenwich Mean Time--a difference of nine hours. In practical terms, this meant that Flavia was raring to go every day just as I was getting ready for bed. Because there was no point in either of us being tired and cranky, we finally managed to work out a compromise in which I began awakening at 4:00 a.m. to write, while Flavia (rather impatiently) hung around until after lunch, waiting for me to show up.

As The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie progressed, I soon learned that Flavia wouldn’t be pushed around--especially by me. Because she had so many of her own ideas, she had little patience with mine. Occasionally, if I were tired, I’d find myself trying to put words in her mouth: to push her, as it were. But Flavia would have none of it.

"Blot that," she seemed to be saying. "Let’s back up and start again."

And of course we did.

Then there was the problem of the chemistry. While Flavia knew everything about chemistry that could be known, my own knowledge of the subject could be put into a thimble with room left over for a finger. If I protested that I was in doubt about the precise details of one of her more bizarre chemical experiments, Flavia would snap her metaphorical fingers and say, "Well, you can look it up in your spare time."

Almost from the outset I realized that the tale Flavia had to tell could never be contained in a single book. And that’s how the series was born. Fortunately, my editors were in total agreement!

We liked the idea of each book revolving around some now-vanished English custom, or way of life, and of being able, gradually, to get to know the de Luce family, giving each of them the time and the space to--eventually--tell his or her own story.

Of course, to convey authentic 1950s voices, the pacing would have to be slower than we are used to in the 21st century. On the other hand, a more relaxed narrative would allow for an additional overall richness of description that might not be found in a more breakneck series of thrillers.

But I needn’t have worried: Flavia had her own voice and insisted on being listened to.

It was I who had to do the learning. --Alan Bradley

(Photo © Shirley Bradley)



From Booklist
Flavia, the precocious, imaginative, and adorable 11-year-old sleuth, returns for her second adventure. It’s a mystery in itself how a mature male author can pen the adventures of such a young female child and keep readers believing in the fantasy. Flavia’s world is 1950s England—specifically, a very old country house that just happens to have a long-abandoned chemistry laboratory. And Flavia just happens to be fascinated by chemistry—particularly poisons. This helps her solve mysteries because, as Flavia says, “There’s something about pottering with poisons that clarifies the mind.” This time she becomes involved with the members of a traveling puppet show that features the tale of Jack and the Beanstalk. When the puppetmaster is mysteriously electrocuted during the show, Flavia knows it can’t be an accident and eventually finds the murderer. The rest of Flavia’s family are also eccentric, to say the least, and add greatly to the overall fun. Thank goodness Bradley is not allowing Flavia to grow up too quickly; we need more sleuths whose primary mode of transportation is a bicycle. --Judy Coon
Review
Praise for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie:
"Altogether admirable…. [Sweetness] made me very happy, for all kinds of reasons: for its humour, for the wonderful invention of the 11-year-old chemist-detective Flavia de Luce, for its great attention to period detail, and mostly because it was so deft and assured, from top to tail."
— Bill Richardson in The Globe and Mail

"Billiant, irresistible and incorrigible, Flavia has a long future ahead of her. Bradley's mystery debut is a standout."
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

"Utterly charming! Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce proves to be one of the most precocious, resourceful and...well — just plain dangerous — heroines around. Evil doers — and big sisters — beware!"
— Lisa Gardner

"While Flavia De Luce is winning your heart, she may also be poisoning your tea. She's the most wickedly funny sleuth in years, brilliant, unpredictable, unflappable — and only eleven. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie offers the freshest new voice in mystery yet."
— Charles Todd, the Ian Rutledge series

"A wickedly clever story, a dead true and original voice, and an English country house in the summer: Alexander McCall Smith meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Please, please, Mr. Bradley, tell me we'll be seeing Flavia again soon?"
— Laurie R. King --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
Chapter One


I was lying dead in the churchyard. An hour had crept by since the mourners had said their last sad farewells.

At twelve o’clock, just at the time we should otherwise have been sitting down to lunch, there had been the departure from Buckshaw: my polished rosewood coffin being brought out of the drawing room, carried slowly down the broad stone steps to the driveway, and slid with heartbreaking ease into the open door of the waiting hearse, crushing beneath it a little bouquet of wildflowers that had been laid gently inside by one of the grieving villagers.

Then there had been the long drive down the avenue of chestnuts to the Mulford Gates, whose rampant griffins looked away as we passed, though whether in sadness or in apathy I would never know.

Dogger, Father’s devoted jack-of-all-trades, had paced in measured step alongside the slow hearse, his head bowed, his hand resting lightly on its roof, as if to shield my remains from something that only he could see. At the gates, one of the undertaker’s mutes had finally coaxed him, by using hand signals, into a hired motorcar.

And so they had brought me to the village of Bishop’s Lacey, passing somberly through the same green lanes and dusty hedgerows I had bicycled every day when I was alive.

At the heaped-up churchyard of St. Tancred’s, they had taken me gently from the hearse and borne me at a snail’s pace up the path beneath the limes. Here, they had put me down for a moment in the new-mown grass.

Then had come the service at the gaping grave, and there had been a note of genuine grief in the voice of the vicar as he pronounced the traditional words.

It was the first time I’d heard the Order for the Burial of the Dead from this vantage point. We had attended last year, with Father, the funeral of old Mr. Dean, the village greengrocer. His grave, in fact, was just a few yards from where I was presently lying. It had already caved in, leaving not much more than a rectangular depression in the grass that was, more often than not, filled with stagnant rainwater.

My oldest sister, Ophelia, said it collapsed because Mr. Dean had been resurrected and was no longer bodily present, while Daphne, my other sister, said it was because he had plummeted through into an older grave whose occupant had disintegrated.

I thought of the soup of bones below: the soup of which I was about to become just another ingredient.

Flavia Sabina de Luce, 1939–1950, they would cause to be carved on my gravestone, a modest and tasteful gray marble thing with no room for false sentiments.

Pity. If I’d lived long enough, I’d have left written instructions calling for a touch of Wordsworth:

A maid whom there were none to praise

And very few to love.

And if they’d balked at that, I’d have left this as my second choice:

Truest hearts by deeds unkind

To despair are most inclined.

Only Feely, who had played and sung them at the piano, would recognize the lines from Thomas Campion’s Third Book of Airs, and she would be too consumed by guilty grief to tell anyone.

My thoughts were interrupted by the vicar’s voice.

“. . . earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body . . .”

And suddenly they had gone, leaving me there alone—alone to listen for the worms.

This was it: the end of the road for poor Flavia.

By now the family would already be back at Buckshaw, gathered round the long refectory table: Father seated in his usual stony silence, Daffy and Feely hugging one another with slack, tearstained faces as Mrs. Mullet, our cook, brought in a platter of baked meats.

I remembered something that Daffy had once told me when she was devouring The Odyssey: that baked meats, in ancient Greece, were traditional funeral fare, and I had replied that, in view of Mrs. Mullet’s cooking, not much had changed in two and a half thousand years.

But now that I was dead, I thought, perhaps I ought to practice being somewhat more charitable.

Dogger, of course, would be inconsolable. Dear Dogger: butler-cum- chauffeur-cum-valet-cum-gardener-cum-estate-manager: a poor shell- shocked soul whose capabilities ebbed and flowed like the Severn tides; Dogger, who had recently saved my life and forgotten it by the next morning. I should miss him terribly.

And I should miss my chemistry laboratory. I thought of all the golden hours I’d spent there in that abandoned wing of Buckshaw, blissfully alone among the flasks, the retorts, and the cheerily bubbling tubes and beakers. And to think that I’d never see them again. It was almost too much to bear.

I listened to the rising wind as it whispered overhead in the branches of the yew trees. It was already growing cool here in the shadows of St. Tancred’s tower, and it would soon be dark.

Poor Flavia! Poor, stone-cold-dead Flavia.

By now, Daffy and Feely would be wishing that they hadn’t been so downright rotten to their little sister during her brief eleven years on this earth.

At the thought, a tear started down my cheek.

Would Harriet be waiting to welcome me to Heaven?

Harriet was my mother, who had died in a mountaineering accident a year after I was born. Would she recognize me after ten years? Would she still be dressed in the mountain-climbing suit she was wearing when she met her end, or would she have swapped it by now for a white robe?

Well, whatever she was wearing, I knew it would be stylish.

There was a sudden clatter of wings: a noise that echoed loudly from the stone wall of the church, amplified to an alarming volume by a half acre of stained glass and the leaning gravestones that hemmed me in. I froze.

Could it be an angel—or more likely, an archangel—coming down to return Flavia’s precious soul to Paradise? If I opened my eyes the merest slit, I could see through my eyelashes, but only dimly.

No such luck: It was one of the tattered jackdaws that were always hanging round St. Tancred’s. These vagabonds had been nesting in the tower since its thirteenth-century stonemasons had packed up their tools and departed.

Now the idiotic bird had landed clumsily on top of a marble finger that pointed to Heaven, and was regarding me coolly, its head cocked to one side, with its bright, ridiculous boot-button eyes.

Jackdaws never learn. No matter how many times I played this trick they always, sooner or later, came flapping down from the tower to investigate. To the primeval mind of a jackdaw, any body horizontal in a churchyard could have only one meaning: food.

As I had done a dozen times before, I leapt to my feet and flung the stone that was concealed in my curled fingers. I missed—but then I nearly always did.

With an “awk” of contempt, the thing sprang into the air and flapped off behind the church, towards the river.

Now that I was on my feet, I realized I was hungry. Of course I was! I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. For a moment I wondered vaguely if I might find a few leftover jam tarts or a bit of cake in the kitchen of the parish hall. The St. Tancred’s Ladies’ Auxiliary had gathered the night before, and there was always the chance.

As I waded through the knee-high grass, I heard a peculiar snuffling sound, and for a moment, I thought the saucy jackdaw had come back to have the last word.

I stopped and listened.

Nothing.

And then it came again.

I find it sometimes a curse and sometimes a blessing that I have inherited Harriet’s acute sense of hearing, since I am able, as I am fond of telling Feely, to hear things that would make your hair stand on end. One of the sounds to which I am particularly attuned is the sound of someone crying.

It was coming from the northwest corner of the churchyard—from somewhere near the wooden shed in which the sexton kept his grave- digging tools. As I crept slowly forward on tiptoe, the sound grew louder: Someone was having a good old-fashioned cry, of the knock-’em- down-drag-’em-out variety.

It is a simple fact of nature that while most men can walk right past a weeping woman as if their eyes are blinkered and their ears stopped up with sand, no female can ever hear the sound of another in distress without rushing instantly to her aid.

I peeped round a black marble column, and there she was, stretched out full length, facedown on the slab of a limestone tomb, her red hair flowing out across the weathered inscription like rivulets of blood. Except for the cigarette wedged stylishly erect between her fingers, she might have been a painting by one of the Pre-Raphaelites, such as Burne-Jones. I almost hated to intrude.

“Hullo,” I said. “Are you all right?”

It is another simple fact of nature that one always begins such conversations with an utterly stupid remark. I was sorry the instant I’d uttered it.

“Oh! Of course I’m all right,” she cried, leaping to her feet and wiping her eyes. “What do you mean by creeping up on me like that? Who are you, anyway?”

With a toss of her head she flung back her hair and stuck out her chin. She had the high cheekbones and the dramatically triangular face of a silent cinema star, and I could see by the way she bared her teeth that she was terrified.

“Flavia,” I said. “My name is Flavia de Luce. I live near here—at Buckshaw.”

I jerked my thumb in the general direction.

She was still staring at me like a woman in the grip of a nightmare.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

She pulled herself up to her full height—which couldn’t have...
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Alan Bradley has published many children’s stories as well as lifestyle and arts columns in Canadian newspapers. His adult stories have been broadcast on CBC Radio and published in various literary journals. He won the first Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for Children’s Literature. He lives in British Columbia. Delacorte Press will publish the next in Bradley’s delirious new series, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, in 2010. 


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