The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag
Flavia de Luce #2
By Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press 2010
From the library
Intrepid young scientist and sleuth Flavia de Luce is at it again in the second mystery from Alan Bradley. A traveling puppet show comes into town and the puppeteer and his assistant are coerced into performing while their truck is being repaired. Flavia befriends Nialla, the assistant, and learns that things are not as rosy between Nialla and Rupert as they might appear onstage. When Rupert is murdered, Flavia puts her powers of intuition, science, and pure pluckiness to work and realizes that there are many suspects in her tiny town and that this mysterious death may be tied to another local murder from long ago.
Flavia is a very polarizing character. She is a precocious 11 year old chemistry whiz with a wicked sense of humor who is loved by many and despised by some. At times, she does seem to understand much more than she should for her age, both about human nature and about science. While Flavia is incredibly bright and can be incredibly impetuous at times, she realizes both the positives and negatives of her age. "Eleven year-olds are supposed to be unreliable. We're past the age of being poppets: the age where people bend over and poke us in the tum with their fingers and make idiotic noises that sound like "boof-boof" -- just the thoughts of which is enough to make me bring up my Bovril. And yet we're still not at the age where anyone ever mistakes us for a grown-up. The fact is, we're invisible -- except when we choose not to be."
While I found the mystery in this book compelling, it has a very slow buildup. The murder in question doesn't happen until halfway through the book and I knew who was in trouble long before the crime was committed. I wasn't miserable waiting for the plot to build up to the murder - Flavia is always entertaining, whether she is gallivanting around town on her bike Gladys or plotting against her insufferable older sisters. Bradley excels at creating the quintessential small British town with a zany and lovable cast of characters. It's interesting to see how he builds the characters in each story, so you meet a few more residents of Bishop's Lacey in each book.
While this is a sequel, it shouldn't stop you from jumping into this book. I don't think you will be confused if you haven't read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. But really, why should you miss any of Flavia's adventures? She is an unforgettable character and Alan Bradley is a great writer. I look forward to seeing what mischief Flavia finds next in A Red Herring Without Mustard.