Alan Bradley

Orion Books Hdbk £12.99

Released: 15th April 2010

Reviewer: Angela Hatherell

  Mother of 5, grannie of 11, before marriage to Army officer she was an embryo librarian. Now retired and volunteering two afternoons a week in Oxfam bookshop. Crossword fan (Telegraph, Observer, Times) and most enjoy reading historical/crime  
To have an investigator who is a young girl is unusual: to have one who is a precocious eleven-year-old, with an inquiring mind and passionately devoted to concocting poisons from natural materials’ must be unique. Flavia de Luce lives with her overbearing father and with two much older sisters who loathe her and bully her. She comes across a weeping woman who turns out to be the assistant to Rupert, a famous puppet-master, and helps to arrange a puppet show in the village hall.

In the title of the book the weed refers to hemp as the drug, and to the hangman’s hempen rope. They are connected by the unsolved death by hanging of a little boy some years earlier and the involvement of his parents with Rupert.

A the puppet performance of Jack and the Beanstalk, in which the face of Jack bears an uncanny resemblance to the hanged boy, Rupert is shockingly murdered, and Flavia takes it upon herself to discover the murderer. In spite of the bizarre idea of an eleven-year-old being so mature disbelief is suspended and Flavia’s thoughts and deductions were to me completely plausible.

I enjoyed this book very much: it is well-written with imaginative descriptions and expressions which underline Flavia’s youth and paradoxical maturity. It is set in the 1950s, which makes it refreshingly free from technology. Flavia goes everywhere freely on her bicycle Gladys, and there is not a mobile phone in sight. I look forward to reading the first book about Flavia, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. What can that be about, I wonder…






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