I liked The Week That Strings the Hangman's Bag more than book 1 of the series (even though I also gave that one 4 stars). This has such a classic "whodunnit" structure and that gives Flavia space to be herself and indulge in some wonderfully underhand investigation tactics (all while dreaming about poisons).
If you enjoy classic mysteries/whodunnits and haven't checked out this series yet, you really must. You don't need to start at book 1 (I started at book 4 without realising) but, of course, you get to enjoy Flavia's developing character and knowledge more if you follow the books in the order they were written.
Flavia de Luce, the eleven year old sleuth comes to the rescue again in book number two in the tale of murder. When a travelling puppeteer lands in bishops Lacey, Flavia is right there to offer her assistance when their transportation breaks down. She always manages to worm the information out of the locals better than than the local police to solve another mystery. I bought this immediately after reading The sweetness at the bottom of the pie as Flavia is entertaining, witty and brings me back to the days when I thought was Nancy Drew!
What do you get if you mix any of the Enid Blyton mystery solving children, with a dash of the country lady that is Miss Marple, well Flavia de Luce of course! Expect that with Flavia there is also a degree of suffering in her childhood which is perhaps not reflected in any of the aforementioned characters.
Flavia is back in the second of Alan Bradley's books The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag. She still has to put up with her older sisters; Daffy with her nose permanently in a book and Feely with her nose permanently at a mirror. Neither of the sisters seems to have much care for Flavia and they chip away at a rather fragile Flavia who despite her 11 years is still somewhat innocent of the world. "Although I had a sketchy idea of what went on between two people having an affair, I did not actually know the precise mechanical details". Everything in Flavia's mind can be broken down into details, into its basic elements and she continues to seek solace in her laboratory where she experiments and learns about poisons that probably most poisoners do not know about. So when a murder happens in front of her eyes, her brain goes back through all the basic elements until a conclusion can be drawn.
The death at a puppet performance of Jack and the Beanstalk by a famous puppeteer echoes a death of a small child some five years earlier in the village of Bishop Lacey. But how does a travelling showman such as Rupert Porson come to have been in Bishop Lacey before this terrible event? Mad Meg of the woods is convinced that the devil took the child. Grace Ingleby the boy's mother has been grieving every day since he was found hanging in the wood. And exactly why does Cynthia Richardson think is going on in the village parish where husband is vicar? Plenty of plot lines and thoughts to follow and when you think you have solved the puzzle, another piece does not fit. Eventually Flavia seems to outwit Inspector Hewitt her adversary from the previous body she had found, and through her encyclopaedic knowledge of chemistry she saves one of the key witnesses.
All the characters from the first novel are back in this second instalment, besides Flavia's sisters there is her father still trying to come to terms with being widowed in house with 3 girls and keep everything and everyone from going to financial ruin. Dogger the faithful retainer remains in the background but you can sure that when his mind is up to it, he can see and hear what he needs to be able to help Flavia move that little bit closer to the truth. Mrs Mullet, the daily cook and housekeeper who is a budding Mrs Malaprop and makes me chuckle with her observations on recent village events. "...like I said, nobody knows for sure. They had what they call an ink-quest at the library - it's the same thing as a poet's mortem".
This is a lovely book, if a book with a murder can be described as such. It has the period charm of a Blyton story and the village setting of a Christie but when you have a bright young flame such as Flavia then it takes on a whole different meaning. Here is a girl that is trying to find her place in life, without the help of a mother long since dead and with two sisters who but are only interested in themselves and a father who is trying his hardest to do what, still remains a mystery to me as a reader. Flavia is a lost soul, and when you read this book and its predecessor then you feel that you have perhaps made Flavia's life a little brighter because it will have brightened your own.
In The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, the second Flavia de Luce mystery, Alan Bradley has come up with another book that I desperately didn't want to finish - young Flavia is so refreshingly acerbic about everyone around her, yet at the same time beset with private fears. Was she, as her sisters claim, responsible for her mother's death? She's had to develop a tough exterior to protect her against such accusations, and some readers have complained that the apparent malice between the sisters is unconvincing or unpleasant, but Flavia comes from a more buttoned-up era when it was quite usual for all sorts of resentments to fester beneath the surface (actually, a good deal of festering still goes on, viz. any agony aunt's advice about the dangers of family get-togethers like Christmas, but these days we are encouraged to express our feelings more openly, which may or may not be a good thing). Domestic tensions aren't helped by a father who is largely disengaged, a family retainer with a tenuous hold on mental health and a Wodehousian aunt. Add a rather nasty suspicious death, a policeman who's keen to discourage amateur interference and some dodgy substances, and you have a recipe for a classic crime story.
The precocious Flavia's voice carries the action deliciously - Bradley so evidently adores his young heroine, and his writing resonates with the atmosphere of a bygone England. I suspect Bradley might have spent the odd happy hour, himself, absorbing the acid delights of Nancy Mitford, because I detect in Flavia and her sisters a blood-tie with the young Radletts, while their ex-army Father is clearly an admirer of Lord Alconleigh. Inspector Hewitt, on the other hand, might have emerged from the pages of Georgette Heyer or Marjory Allingham, and is a worthy adversary for Flavia - he'd be an evener worthier ally, if only he could see it, because he infuriates Flavia by thwarting her attempts to help, thereby forcing her to embark on her own investigations, which she pursues with dogged determination and considerable deviousness. She is pure joy.
If Sherlock Holmes were an 11-year old girl living in a small English village called Bishop's Lacey after the Second World War, his name would have been Flavia de Luce. Her detective and deduction powers are second to none, and her knowledge of chemistry, poisons and human psychology are superb and surprisingly believable. In this second book, Flavia is already a bit of a local celebrity, roaming the lanes and woods of Bishop's Lacey and chatting to old ladies to uncover the secret pasts of its inhabitants. I found this story slightly less heart in my mouth than the first one, but a captivating read nonetheless. Couldn't put the book down for a few hours, and look forward to reading the third book next. A great read, and some good intelligent writing.
I thought The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie was the best classic thrilling story which modern world could have ever given us: I was wrong. The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag is totally captivating, thrilling, a book you won't ABSOLUTELY be able to put down. I've never been so interested in a mistery like this. It's very particular, (for instance the murder is perpetrated in the middle of the book, not at the beginning as you could expect, when you're already fond of all the characters including, unfortunately, the victim) and even the characters are woundrously detailed. If you love thrilling mystery stories you CANNOT miss it. Trust me. You won't be disappointed.