The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag: A Flavia de Luce Mystery
I’m Kim Alexander and this is Fiction Nation, smart reviews for modern readers on Sirius XM Book Radio. The books are The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag the first two Flavia de Luce mysteries by Alan Bradley.
I’ve said in the past I read a lot of books, and the vast majority are specifically for review or interview. All the books I talk about on Fiction Nation, I’ve read the whole thing. So when I read a book and I don’t have to, it’s turned into a bit of a luxury. Don’t you feel sad for me?
So that was the case with Alan Bradley. I got the second book and begged for the first, they were so delightful, so assured, and such a treat. In a marketplace of mysteries jammed with ever more brutal means of executing, dismembering and dispatching and where the violence is ratcheted up with every release, it was a pleasure to visit a more refined era, where murders happen at the bottom of the garden, and where a child might be left alone to solve that murder.
Meet Flavia de Luce at almost 12, she’s the youngest sister living in the ramshackle mansion in the English countryside. The year is 1950, and Flavia is a sort of junior Miss Marple crossed with Harriet the Spy with a dash of mad scientist for good measure. Flavia’s obsessions are chemistry, tormenting her sisters, and trying to figure out what really happened to her glamorous, now-deceased mother, whose absence hangs like a shroud over the ancient country house. The specifics of the murders in these two books are less important than the pleasure of following Flavia on her adventures in a picture postcard post-war English village. Her intense curiosity, her bone dry wit, and her usually hidden loneliness make her irresistible.
Alan Bradley is neither a teenaged girl nor English, and amazingly these are his first works of fiction. He says that he was struggling with a different book and Flavia strolled on the scene and essentially took over the story. Happily, I wasn’t the only one who devoured the first books, and Flavia’s many fans can look forward to Alan writing four more.