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Thursday, December 22, 2011

Review - I am Half-Sick of Shadows

There is snow here in the Rocky Mountains. Hot cocoa with a fun book is the perfect mix.  I am jumping into the Flavia de Luce momentum with the holiday offering.  Join me and a rascally eleven year old chemist for a 1950s English Estate murder mystery.  The  Mid-Winters Eve Blog Hop is below this entry, just scroll down.

Author: Alan Bradley

Copyright: November 2011 (Delacorte Press) 320 pgs

Series: 4th in Flavia de Luce Mysteries

Sensuality: N/A

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Cozy Mystery

Main Character:  Flavia de Luce, eleven year old budding chemist

Setting: 1950s at Bishop’s Lacey at the family English Estate, Buckshaw

Obtained Through: Library

This was my first Flavia book and it stood on its own just fine with only hints at previous Flavia outings.  Eleven year old Flavia believes in Santa and her older sisters Ophelia and Daphne try to spoil that vision for her. So Flavia sets out a scientific experiment to prove he "does so" exist.  In her eleven year old clinical mind, she only needs to capture Father Christmas as he tries to slide down the chimney.  Flavia is mixing up buckets of industrial strength-bird lime based-sticky substance that she will line the chimneys with to capture St. Nick.  She is also mixing up some fireworks that she plans as a surprise for the Bishop's Lacey townspeople.

In the midst of Flavia's bird-lime-glue and fireworks preparations, her father Colonel de Luce has let Buchshaw Estate to a film company during the holiday for some much needed cash to maintain the estate.  This brings a movie company and silver screen star Phyllis Wyvern to Buchshaw over the holiday.  The town's Vicar convinces the star to do a scene from Romeo and Juliet to help raise money for the crumbling church building.  Half of Bishop's Lacey ends up in Buchshaw for this charity performance, and subsequently is snowed in overnight as well.  While the house has multitudes camped out on the floors a murder is committed, thus providing scores of suspects.  Flavia is first on the scene to discover the murder and she is determined to figure out the killer before the police who trudge in and further cloister the townspeople to Buckshaw.

Flavia's character is brilliant and laugh out loud funny.  You believe that there just might be such an intelligent child who still maintains innocence while looking at death with a clinical eye.  She is tormented by her sisters and fantasizes revenge with various poisons to make them ill.  She misses her deceased mother and nurturing but makes the most of life with a distant father.  This character is what all the fuss surrounding the books is about.  She is a mischievous gem.  A secondary character that shines is Dogger, the family's jack-of-all-trades who served with Colonel de Luce in WWII and was a prisoner of war.  There is more to this character and I want to read more in the series just to figure out the mystery of his background.  Dogger is the hidden gem in these books.

The plot takes a back seat in honesty to Flavia and her schemes.  The premise is sound since many of the family estates in England did suffer financial hardships and ended up selling off parcels of land etc to survive.  To rent out the estate to a film company is likely.  The less likely part is the charity performance which seemed slightly contrived although not a show-stopper.  The working out of the killer seems quickly done since the murder takes place so late in the book. I felt the sleuthing was a little rushed and would have liked the clues and investigation to have given the reader more. 

The confrontation with the killer is quite dramatic for an eleven year old and places Flavia in true danger.  The wrap up was satisfying and gave a heartwarming touch for the holiday.  In spite of the main character being a child, this is definitely an adult book.  The reader is looking through an eleven year old's eyes but without her innocent interpretations which builds the suspense.  I do have to say that the first half of the book seemed slow as the pieces are lined up for the murder (much like a Christie book would do.)

I enjoyed my introduction to Flavia and the Buchshaw estate and will certainly visit again, mostly for the mystery of Dogger and partially for the humor of Flavia herself.

Here is my all time favorite holiday special - Peter, Paul and Mary from 1988 and my favorite song from it - my gift to you.

This is just for the quirky fun of it :-)

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Liz said...

Have enjoyed the three prior Flavia books. She is indeed LOL funny.

[not] Maggie said...

I've only read the first Flavia book, but I want to read the other two as well. She definitely has quite a few LOL moments, and is such a joy to read.

Ann Summerville said...

I haven't read any of these but will look out for them in 2012. Merry Christmas.

Anonymous said...

I greatly appreciate all the info I've read here. I will spread the word about your blog to other people. Cheers.

Harvee said...

I just borrowed this book from the library and it'll be on my holiday reading list. Happy reading 2012!

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