The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag is the second in the Flavia de Luce mystery series by Alan Bradley. The first book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, is impressive, but the second book is even better. Bradley has really nailed the nuances of his character, Flavia de Luce, an 11-year-old girl living in a decrepit manor house in a small English village with the remainder of her eccentric, noble-but-poor family.
The year is 1950 and the setting is in Bishop’s Lacy, a few months after Flavia’s first mystery. A traveling puppet show stops in the area and is convinced by the vicar to perform for the village on the Saturday. When the puppeteer dies at the climax of the performance, Flavia takes it upon herself to discover the murderer.
Bradley does a great job with both the tone of the novel, keeping the pace even and steady, and the characterizations. Flavia is by far the most complex character; her innate love of chemistry and her odd way of seeing the world through a veil of chemical theorems and a morbid obsession with poisons make her amusing and fascinating. She is arrogant in the way of a precocious child who is aware of her own brilliance, and yet she is insecure in her status amongst her sisters and still naive. This combination makes her enchanting and funny.
The audio, read by Jayne Entwistle, is a joy. Entwistle brings Flavia to life, will all of her pre-pubescent indignation and her curiosity. The customs of a bygone era and the scenes of post-WWII village life are almost three-dimensional. I highly recommend the audio version of the book, as the reader lends an extra dimension to the novel that is not to be missed. Hopefully the publishers will continue to use Entwistle for the rest of the series, which I hope will have numerous additions.
-submitted by staffer Shannon Wertzberger