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

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.