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.
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.”
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.