Book review: The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag

When I first discovered the Flavia de Luce series a couple of years ago, it felt like déjà vu because the writing style was vaguely familiar though I could not put my finger on what it was. But this time when I picked up the second book from the installment, “The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag,” I got my answer.

The setting of this detective/mystery novel series is in the 1950s, a period slightly after World War Two, in the English countryside, which already is pretty reminiscent of the Miss Marple stories from queen of crime Agatha Christie. On top of that the manner in which main character/amateur sleuth Flavia cracked her cases bore many similarities to Miss Marple’s investigative methods, apart from the fact the former was only an 11-year-old girl.

Because Agatha Christie was one of the reasons I fell in love with crime fiction, Alan Bradley with his Christiesque style of quaint, old school English detective writing was totally up my alley and a fresh breath from the Nordic noir or American contemporary crime fiction that I have been indulging in.

Flavia’s adventures were relatively much simpler with murder cases occurring only in her small village of Bradshaw. In the case of “The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag” it involved the freak murder of a traveling puppeteer during his performance in front of a big crowd of villagers.

Miss Marple and detective Luke Fitzwilliam… Benedict Cumberbatch anyone?

Like Miss Marple, Flavia used her observational skills to snoop around her fellow villagers but when suspicions were aroused, she acted innocent and pretended to know nothing to help her squirm her way out of awkward situations. When it came to facing death, Flavia as a young girl remained remarkably unfazed, acting and thinking with such maturity that seemed beyond her age. What I truly loved about her character is her stiffness and caustic sense of humour:

   “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.”
    I wanted to throw my arms around this dotty old bat in her George Bernard Shaw costume and hug her until the juices ran out. But I didn’t. I couldn’t.
    I was a de Luce.
    “Thank you, Aunt Felicity,” I said, scrambling to my feet. “You’re a brick.”

That's Alan Bradley for you
That’s Alan Bradley for you

Yet the biggest surprise was when I found out Bradley’s actual age. You would have never imagined he is a 70-odd-year-old Canadian man writing in Queen’s English in the mindset of an 11 year old. He did such an incredible job that if I did not do my research, I would have thought that he was a children’s author in his 30s.

The Flavia de Luce series certainly serves up some old school fashion detective stories that still retain their sparkle and shine in this age and era.


15 thoughts on “Book review: The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag

  1. Have you read the last book yet? I started eons ago but I had to bring the book back to my public library earlier than anticipated. Alan Bradley left an amazing cliff hanger in the second-last book which made scrambling with anticipation. I love this series and I have full intentions of getting it in my school library.

  2. I LOVED Flavia when I first read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie a few years ago, but never followed through with this one! It’s been sitting around my shelves for ages and your review has me wanting to go pick it up!

    1. It was the same for me too. I kinda stopped at The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and when I realized that the author had already penned another 5 more books, I was like holy smokes, what did I miss out on? 😀

  3. You described Alan Bradley’s style perfectly! I’ve read the first three books in the Flavia de Luce series and if I was not convinced after The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, the second book won me over. So far, it’s my personal favourite. We learn more about Flavia, we truly discover her sense of humour and her deep thoughts. I hope you will like the next one :).

    1. Ah… a Miss Marple fan. Sad to say, I have a (very) slight inclination towards Poirot and his quaint Belgian charms

      1. I think the Joan Hickson adaptations the BBC made in the 80s and early 90s swung it for me. They introduced me to the books that they had very respectfully used as their source material. Not keen on the new adaptations by ITV though; even with Benedict Cumberbatch.
        Don’t get me wrong though I love Poirot, and I will admit that most of Poirot’s storylines are much better than then the Miss Marple stories.
        I think I like the image of Miss Marple being seen as more than a weak old woman is what I love about her. She gets respect for being intelligent, set at a time when Poirot got automatic respect for being a man and then respect for being a clever one.
        I see a great deal more of Agatha Christie in Miss Marple’s character than I do in Poirot.

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