The last “birthday book” that I bought and read in April was The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley. It is the next book in the series he writes about the unstoppable child genius, Flavia de Luce, who lives in her family’s crumbling English estate in the 1950’s. I had loved his first novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, which I read and reviewed last year, and was greatly looking forward to this one, too!
In this story, Flavia befriends a travelling puppet show host and his girlfriend. She suspects that their lives are more complicated than they first appear. When the lead man ends up electrocuted during the finale of the puppet show, Flavia believes it’s murder and seeks to find the guilty party.
As I’ve already said, I loved the first book about Flavia so much that I could hardly wait to read this one. I think that Bradley’s portrayal of character is so strong and his books are peopled with memorable and unique individuals. This book continued that, with Flavia and her sisters, her absent-minded father, strong-willed aunt, and beloved household help. However, the story did not work for me this time. What follows are some SPOILERS – so please skip to the final paragraph if you don’t want to read them!
First of all, I had some difficulty with the whole murder scene in trying to picture it accurately to understand how the murder occurred. Then I found I had to “reach” to find some things believable — namely how the murderer just happened to come across the murder weapon (bicycle clip) on the floor and decided to use it to commit an intricate murder, how the police kept missing things, how Flavia – genius at chemistry though she is – concocted a quick antidote to the poison using pigeon poo, but most of all: how the adult murderer was running around dressed in the clothes and shoes of a five-year-old. That was just beyond the stretch of my imagination and it made me feel that the plot was contrived.
Bradley’s characters are so wonderful, and he’s at work on his next installment in this series, so I hope that one doesn’t disappoint me in terms of plot and the intricacies of the crime.