Tuesday, January 11, 2011

"King George is not a frivolous man"

I'd like to introduce you to one of the most charming characters to come along in a good long time. Flavia de Luce has a passion for poison, the vocabulary of an adult, and a bicycle named Gladys (she's only 11 years old and yes, this is a book for grownups). Her mother died climbing mountains in the Himalayas and her father, Colonel de Luce, is just about as distant, showing more interest in his stamp collection than his daughters. It's part of the whole English reluctance to show affection and keeping a stiff upper lip, or something like that...

Flavia and her two older sisters live in an old mansion called Buckshaw in the sleepy little English town of Bishop's Lacey around 1950. But things get shaken up in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (which I received from Amazon Vine) when a dead blackbird shows up on the porch with a penny stamp stuck to it's beak. The next morning Flavia finds a dead man in the cucumber patch - well, he's not dead yet, but expires with a final word: "Vale." But who was he, and more important, who killed him? Was it her father who had secretly argued with the stranger the night before, or Dogger, the dependable but unstable gardener who still suffers from his experiences in Japanese POW camps? Maybe he died from eating a slice of Mrs. Mullet's horrible cream pie? Whoever it was, Flavia is determined to find out with the help of her chemistry knowledge and Gladys.

In The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag Flavia gets tangled up with a travelling puppet show, one that's already famous on the new medium of television (Buckshaw doesn't yet have such a wasteful and silly device). She does her best to help Nialla, the troubled (and abused) assistant to the well-known Rupert Porson, but when Rupert is murdered everyone is suspect, from Nialla to the vicar to the BBC producer to the crazy old woman in the woods. Rupert, it turns out, had many secrets involving people in Bishop's Lacey, but it takes Flavia to untangle it all.

What I love most about the Flavia books is the extraordinarily clever language. Alan Bradley has a style that reminded me of Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader but even more clever and charming. It's what the English like to call "wickedly funny," which apparently means that it's funny in a clever and witty way with a good helping of subtle sarcasm. And even though it's written more for grown-ups (don't worry, there's nothing inappropriate here!) older kids will probably enjoy it just as well (most of it would just go over the heads of younger kids). Braiden and I loved both books and we're looking forward to another 'slice' when A Red Herring Without Mustard comes out in February.

A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Mystery (Flavia De Luce Mysteries)The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce MysteryThe Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: A Flavia de Luce Mystery (Flavia De Luce Mysteries)

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