I know people really have mixed feelings about Flavia de Luce. At eleven, she’s precocious, knowledgeable about poisons, interferes in crime investigations. Some readers just find her obnoxious. But, it’s hard not to feel sorry for her when reading Alan Bradley’s latest mystery, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows.
Flavia’s father is desperate to find money to keep Buckshaw. The house belonged to his wife, Harriet, so her disappearance in a mountaineering accident left him without the money to pay inheritance taxes. He chooses an unusual method of saving the house. He rents it to a film company, who shows up just before Christmas.
Although Flavia is preoccupied with her plans to trap Father Christmas, she’s interested in the new arrivals, including the star, Phyllis Wyvern. The diva isn’t nice to most of the people around her, but, unlike Flavia’s sisters, she’s kind to the young girl. Flavia has been hurt too often to be completely taken in, but she likes her statement, “Older sisters are much alike the world over: half a cup of love and half one of contempt.”
When Phyllis agrees to do a performance to benefit the local church, most of the villagers of Bishop’s Lacey show up at Buckshaw. And, the blizzard that snows them in provides the perfect opportunity for the lonely Flavia to spy on people, and observe them in sleep. But, the snowstorm also provides the perfect opportunity for a murderer, and it’s Flavia who finds the body. Now, just before Christmas, she has two missions, find a killer, and snare Father Christmas.
Instead of a small household imprisoned in a house when a murder occurs, Bradley imprisons half the village of Bishop’s Lacey along with an entire film crew. Flavia has a large group of suspects, however she needs to find the killer before this Christmas becomes her last one.
As brilliant as Flavia is, she’s young and naïve, and she breaks my heart. She’s only eleven, and lost her mother at a young age. Her entire family is locked away in separate worlds. She longs for attention from her father, a man who seldom realizes his daughters exist. One sister lives for her books, while the other is a flirt. And, both Ophelia and Daphne pick on Flavia, hurting her when they tell her stories about their mother. They team up to imply that Harriet didn’t love Flavia. In retaliation, Flavia hurries to her laboratory, plotting which poisons will hurt her sisters. And, she looks for her mother in so many females. The only person who truly understands Flavia is Dogger, the mysterious man who was once in the army with Flavia’s father, the jack-of-all-trades at Buckshaw, who sometimes has anxiety attacks as a result of his horrible experiences in the war.
Bradley’s mysteries are interesting, and I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is as readable as his earlier ones. Each book reveals a little more about the characters. This time, there’s more about Dogger with hints of Aunt Felicity’s role during the war. But, those of us who enjoy these mysteries return time and again for Flavia de Luce, the lonely eleven-year-old with a passion for poisons and a propensity for crime investigation.
Alan Bradley’s website is www.flaviadeluce.com.
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley. Delacorte Press. ©2011. ISBN 9780385344012 (hardcover), 297p.
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