Nancy McKibben's Reviews > The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley
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really liked it
bookshelves: historical-fiction, mystery, reviewed
Recommended for: readers who like period mysteries, lots of literary allusions, British mysteries

The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag
By Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce is a brilliant, quirky, chemistry-loving, crime-solving - wait for it - eleven-year-old. The novel happens in rural England in the 1950s. Flavia’s situation is both sad - her mother perished when Flavia was only a year old, her professorial father lives in a permanent fog because of it, and her two older sisters seem determined to torment her - and ideal, since Flavia is left alone to pursue her peculiar interest in poisons with the aid of her great-uncle’s old chemistry lab, conveniently located in a little-used wing of the family manor.

Flavia’s friends are eccentric and her family extremely well-educated, making her an entertaining narrator. Here she describes Gibbet Wood:
Bright cobwebs hung suspended like little portcullises of light between the rotted tree stumps. Beneath the ancient oaks and lichen-coated hornbeams, bluebells peeped out from the deep shadows among the ferns, and there on the far side of the glade I spotted the serrated leaves of the poisonous dog’s mercury that, when steeped in water, produced a gorgeous indigo poison that I had once transformed into the bright red color of arterial blood simply by adding a two-percent solution of hydrochloric acid.

I thought with pleasure of how the ammonia and amides given off by the deep compost on the forest floor provided a perfect feast for omnivorous molds that converted it to nitrogen, which they then stored in their protoplasm, where it would be fed upon by bacteria. It seemed to me a perfect world: a world in which cooperation was a fact of life.

I drew in a deep breath, sucking the sour tang into the lungs and savoring the chemical smell of decay.

But this was no time for pleasant reflections.
Fortunately for the reader, this is a series. In this particular book, a famous puppeteer arrives by chance - or is it? - in the village and agrees to stage a show in the parish hall. Murder ensues and it’s up to Flavia to sort through the suspects: the pupeteer’s pregnant mistress, the mad mother of a murdered child, a pot-growing farmer (in 1950s British parlance, hemp), the vicar’s unpleasant wife. As Flavia muses at the end of the book when she enlightens Inspector Hewitt with the solution to the mystery:
I knew by the sudden closed look on Inspector Hewitt’s face that I had hit the nail on the head. Bravo, Flavia! I thought. Go to the head of the class!

There were times when I surprised even myself.

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Reading Progress

Started Reading
August 19, 2013 – Finished Reading
August 21, 2013 – Shelved
August 21, 2013 – Shelved as: historical-fiction
August 21, 2013 – Shelved as: mystery
August 21, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed

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