Saturday, May 8, 2010

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

Flavia is back! This time she meets a puppeteer, Rupert Porson, of TV fame, and his assistant in The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag. They've been asked to stage a performance and Flavia has been asked to help them set up. During the presentation, Flavia notices that one of the marionettes looks like a child who died some time ago near the village. If that's not strange enough, Rupert dies while on stage. Flavia can't imagine how the two deaths are connected, but she knows that something strange is going on and is determined to find out.

Bradley has another hit on his hands. I loved this book. It was every bit as delightful and quaint as the first book in the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (my review). Having said that, I did enjoy the first one just a wee bit more. In this book, I loved the opening scene with Flavia in the graveyard, but was a little confused by it at first. Ever since she found a body in the garden at Buckshaw, Flavia's become obsessed with death...and chemistry.

I loved Flavia, her sisters and their Father, but the book also has some other interesting characters; some pretty strange and quirky. For instance, Mad Meg, who seems to be the village lunatic, and Nialla and Rupert, the puppeteer and his assistant, were all fun to read about.

Flavia often surprises me with her actions and personality. She so mature yet we see child-like qualities peeking through every now and then. She fights with her sisters and complains about Mrs. Mullet's cooking, but I guess those actions not just confined to children, are they? Maybe it's just the way she does them that makes her appear younger. She is also quite put out when Inspector Hewitt treats her like a child.

There wasn't as much contact between Flavia and Inspector Hewitt as there was in the first book, but the author included enough to satisfy me. I just love how they interact with each other. I hope to see more in the future.

Even though the book is the second in the series, the first book/case was referenced only a couple of times. That was refreshing as I find series books often spend way too much time rehashing events or things from the previous books. I hope Bradley continues in this vein.

I appreciated the map of Bishop's Lacey and the surrounding area. I like to have a picture of the area in my head as I'm reading.

Years ago, I saw a very talented puppeteer on stage. His name was Ronnie Burkett. I couldn't help but think of him when I was reading this book. If you ever get the chance to see him, do so. He's magnificent. Oh, and leave the kids at home (unless you are sure the program is geared for children). His material can be quite raunchy.

Favourite quotes: Here are two of my favourites:

Inspiration from outside one's self is like the heat in an oven. It makes passable Bath buns. But inspiration from within is like a volcano: It changes the face of the world.(page 195)

To be most effective, flattery is always best applied with a trowel. (page 221)

New Word Alert: As with Bradley's first book, this one, too, had numerous new words for me. Here's a sampling:
insalubrious (page 51) - unhealthy
bathyscaphe (page 53) - submersible deep-sea research vessel
proscenium (page 60) - front of stage
exophthalmia (page 100) - The protrusion of the eyeball so that the eyelids will not cover it
rusticating (page 114) - to go to the country to live or make something appear rustic.
pustulent (page 162) filled or oozing with pus (according to Wiktionary).
charabancs (page 239) - sightseeing bus
muddlederumpus (page 261) - not sure. I couldn't find a definition anywhere, but I love the word.
obsequies (page 331) - funeral rites
inhumation (page 333) - to bury a dead body

Here's another review by Nicola from Back to Books.

Highly recommended. I can't wait to read the next Flavia installment called "A Red Herring Without Mustard", which will be published in the Spring of 2011 (according to The Flavia Fan Club).

For more information about this book, please visit the Random House website.

For more information about the author, his books and all things Flavia, please visit The Flavia Fan Club website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Random House Canada for this review copy.

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley, Doubleday Canada (Random House), ©2010. ISBN 9780385665841(Hardcover), 343p.


  1. Hey, thanks for the mention. I agree with you on the opening sentence. It takes a few minutes to relize what's happening! I sure hope Mad Meg shows up again, what a character!

  2. I'm listening to The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie right now and I adore Flavia - she is a fantastic character! I'm glad to see the series stays strong.

  3. I read this one without having read Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and I found Flavia fun and precocious! My full review is here. I definitely want to go back and read the first book, then re-read this one - I think it merits a second go-over to catch things I missed the first time.

  4. I just bought this book. I loved the first one and I'm really looking forward to reading the second.


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