RogerBW's Blog

The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag, Alan Bradley 24 October 2016

2010 historical mystery; second in Bradley's series about Flavia de Luce, young amateur sleuth in 1950s Britain. Rupert Porson, the famous puppeteer (at least to those who have televisions), was passing through the village of Bishop's Lacey when his van broke down; since he's stuck there overnight, he might as well put on a show. But it's all going to go horribly wrong.

This is a very busy story, with plenty of investigation of Fell Deeds in the past of the village. In spite of that, it gets off to a very slow start, with no killing until nearly half-way through – and while there's some detail before that which will be useful later, it's sunk in a sea of irrelevancies. Things do rather pick up after that, though.

The mystery is still the principal point of the book, rather than the period detail, but it's a close-run thing at times. In the life of the village, one of Flavia's sisters becomes involved with a German former prisoner of war who's rather more complex than appears, and her Aunt Felicity arrives for a visit and is less batty than she seems.

"If you remember nothing else, remember this: Inspiration from outside one's self is like the heat in an oven. It makes passable Bath buns. But inspiration from within is like a volcano: It changes the face of the world."

As with several other "odd detective" series (I'm thinking particularly of Kerry Greenwood's Phryne Fisher stories), one really has to get oneself very much in sympathy with the principal – even as she plots to poison, or at least seriously embarrass, her sisters.

All right, there are plenty of errors (the Bf 110 was not "nicknamed" Zerstörer, that was its designation as a heavy fighter), and one never quite forgets that this is a Canadian rather than a British author writing about Britain, but it's enjoyable trottle that gets the job done. Followed by A Red Herring Without Mustard.

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  1. Posted by Ashley R Pollard at 02:31pm on 24 October 2016

    Do you mean foul deed? And trottle? Qu'est-ce?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 02:38pm on 24 October 2016

    "Fell deeds" is quite a common phrasing, certainly Shakespearean; I'm surprised you haven't met it. See this earlier post for more on "trottle".

  3. Posted by Owen Smith at 08:26pm on 24 October 2016

    Do authors regularly get things wrong that can be looked up in wikipedia? I'm talking about the BF 110.

  4. Posted by RogerBW at 11:03pm on 24 October 2016

    It depends on the author. I read Bradley in spite of errors like that, because the characterisation is still enjoyable, and the error doesn't affect the plot; it just causes me to stumble as I'm reading, as I might over an infelicity of grammar, and then I pick myself up and continue.

    Personally I think it is an author's duty to check facts even when they are irrelevant or inconvenient – as for example in Still Bennies, my Falklands/Cthulhu scenario, where (not to give too much away to people who haven't played it) it would make my life easier as a GM to say "the Argentinian soldiers have dogtags with their dates of birth on them", but I checked and in fact Argentinian dogtags of that era didn't.

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