Monday, June 14, 2010

Brilliant Writing and Flavia DeLuce

"Our tears, like rain, water the ground too little and nothing grows, too much and the best of what we are is washed away. My rains have come and gone--yours are just beginning." G'Kar from the TV series Babylon 5, brilliantly written by J. Michael Straczynski

I was watching the 5th season of Babylon 5 this weekend, and marveling at the wonderful characters and their incredible, insightful and riveting dialogue, written by JMS, who, in my opinion, rivals Joss Whedon in creating characters and a TV mileau that fascinates and engrosses viewers.

I also read "The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag" by Alan Bradley, the second Flavia DeLuce mystery, following "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie."
I was hoping that the author wouldn't fall prey to the infamous sophomore curse, in which the first book becomes famous and lauded, and the sequel is often a complete dud.
Fortunately, my fears were unfounded, and Mr Bradley has created another mystery novel that is just as charming and delightful as the first.

Once again, the reader is thrust into post war 1950s England, where Flavia and her two tormenting sisters, Ophelia and Daphne live in genteel poverty with their stamp-collecting father in a crumbling manor house. They have a gossip-mongering cook whose food is nearly poisonous, a 'shell-shocked' gardener/maintenance man and, in this installment, a snotty Aunt who decides to pay a visit and make cutting remarks to all and sundry.
The brilliant Flavia comes across a ragtag pair of puppeteers whose van has broken down, and gets them, along with the Vicar, to stay and do a show for the townsfolk. Unfortunately, the main puppeteer is killed during the evening show, and it's up to our young stalwart sleuth to figure out whodunit, and why. Add to this mix a German POW who decided to stay in England after the war because he's a fan of British classic literature, a singing crazy old lady duo, a madwoman who lives in the woods and found a local child hanged there, and a local marajuana farmer and his insane wife who lost their son and are shocked to see his face on one of the puppets in the puppet show.

Though it sounds like a lot of loose threads and people to keep straight, Bradley weaves them together with a deft touch and keeps the reader in suspense right up until the final chapter. There are plot twists and some red herrings just to keep the reader on his or her toes, and, as in the previous book, lots of chemical and biological experiments by Flavia, whose Sherlockian deductions bring the killer to roost, eventually. Bradley's prose sparkles just as brightly as his characters, and I actually enjoyed this installment of the mystery series more than I did the first one, which is saying something, since I loved the first book, and felt it achieved well-deserved fame.
What is even more of a mystery to me, however, is how Alan Bradley, a middle aged man, can so accurately describe the mind of an 11 year old girl. I'm assuming Flavia is based on someone Bradley knows and loves, and is an homage to that person and her indominable spirit.
At any rate, I'd recommend this book to all the teenagers I know and the women and men who enjoy a first-rate mystery, particularly those who are anglophiles.

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