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The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag


by Alan Bradley


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The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag
by Alan Bradley

Reviewed August 4, 2010.
Delacorte Press, 2010. 364 pages.
Starred Review

Flavia de Luce, appearing in her second adventure, has got to be one of the most memorable and captivating fictional sleuths ever created. Flavia is eleven years old, living at Buckshaw, outside the village of Bishop's Lacey, having the run of the place on her bicycle named Gladys. She lives with her distracted father, an avid stamp collector, and her two sisters, who torment and are tormented by her.

Flavia has a passion for poisons. She inherited her great uncle's chemistry lab, and has an exhaustive knowledge of chemicals. Because she's eleven years old, people don't realize how much she knows and deduces.

In The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, a BBC puppeteer show has his van break down in Bishop's Lacey. When the puppeteer is electrocuted during his performance for the village, Flavia does some digging and discovers a connection with a long-ago hanging of a little boy from the village.

The fun of this book, like the earlier The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, is the irrepressible character of Flavia. Add to that a fairly intricate and interesting mystery, with chemical details thrown in (I took Flavia's word for the truth of those parts.), and you've got an enchanting book that makes for captivating reading.

There's something about pottering with poisons that clarifies the mind. When the slightest slip of the hand could prove fatal, one's attention is forced to focus like a burning-glass upon the experiment, and it is then that the answers to half-formed questions so often come swarming to mind as readily as bees coming home to the hive.