The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

 Bradley, Alan. (2010) The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. (The Flavia de Luce Series) Bantam, division of Random House. ISBN 978-0385343459. Litland recommends ages 14-100!

 Publisher’s description:  Flavia de Luce, a dangerously smart eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and a genius for solving murders, thinks that her days of crime-solving in the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey are over—until beloved puppeteer Rupert Porson has his own strings sizzled in an unfortunate rendezvous with electricity. But who’d do such a thing, and why? Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What about Porson’s charming but erratic assistant? 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? (Bantam Books)

 Our thoughts:

 Flavia De Luce is back and in full force! Still precocious. Still brilliant. Still holding an unfortunate fascination with poisons…

 As with the first book of the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, we begin with a seemingly urgent, if not sheer emergency, situation that once again turns out to be Flavia’s form of play.  We also see the depth of her sister’s cruelty as they emotionally badger their little sister, and Flavia’s immediate plan for the most cruel of poisoned deaths as revenge. Readers will find themselves chuckling throughout the book!

 And while the family does not present the best of role models (smile), our little heroine does demonstrate good character here and there as she progresses through this adventure. As explained in my first review on this series, the protagonist may be 11 but that doesn’t mean the book was written for 11-year olds :>) For readers who are parents, however (myself included), we shudder to wonder what might have happened if we had bought that chemistry kit for our own kids!

 Alas, the story has much more to it than mere chemistry. The author’s writing style is incredibly rich and entertaining, with too many amusing moments to even give example of here. From page 1 the reader is engaged and intrigued, and our imagination is easily transported into  the 1950’s Post WWII England village. In this edition of the series, we have more perspective of Flavia as filled in by what the neighbors know and think of her. Quite the manipulative character as she flits  around Bishop’s Lacy on her mother’s old bike, Flavia may think she goes unnoticed but begins to learn not all are fooled…

 The interesting treatment of perceptions around German prisoners of war from WWII add historical perspective, and Flavia’s critical view of villagers, such as the Vicar’s mean wife and their sad relationship, fill in character profiles with deep colors. Coupled with her attention to detail that helps her unveil the little white lies told by antagonists, not a word is wasted in this story.

 I admit to being envious of the author’s creative writing talent and assume he must be a killer competitor in Scrabble!

 If this were a movie (and I wish it were!), it would likely be PG. We have a tasteful treatment of unwed traveling companions and their pregnancy. Rather than being addressed in direct and vulgar manner, the author has Flavia make a correlation of their relationship to one in Oliver Twist. Her attempt to learn about the birds and the bees is thwarted by the well-meaning adults in her life. Very few instances of slang profanity.  See our review against character education guidelines for the first book in the series for more detail http://www.litland.com/reviews_15up/Sweetnessbottomofpie.html

 Ultimately, the reader is left with a smile on her face, and moving the next story in the series (A Red Herring Without Mustard) to the top of her reading to-do list. Excellent read! Grab your copy at the Litland.com bookstore.

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