I am Half-Sick of Shadows – Alan Bradley

Catching up with some book blog reading last week, I came across a (surprise to me) announcement of the release of another volume of the Flavia de Luce mysteries which happen to be one of my favorite guilty pleasures. Although they are written by a man from Canada, the protagonist is an eleven year old girl who lives in a dilapidated country house in 1950’s England. The author does succeed in translating his voice into the voice of a precocious young girl, surrounded by horrible older sisters who like to verbally torture her and a distant father. (Her mother has been killed in a climbing accident in Tibet when she was a baby.)

So this was the fourth volume of the series and features a Christmas-time mystery surrounding the murder of an aging film star who was working on a film being shot at the dilapidated country manse where the de Luce family lives.  Along this lies another parallel story of how Flavia is planning to trap Father Christmas to see if he really exists. Oh, and there is a never-ending snow storm that also helps to set up the scenes and the characters. (It is very close to being a traditional English country house dinner party murder set up.)

Another point to remember about Flavia, the heroine, is that she is obsessed with chemistry (particularly the world of poisons) and so there are plenty of layperson-friendly chemistry references strewn throughout the novel. (I assume that most of these references have been checked by someone who is far more knowledgeable about these things than I am. They sounded right, anyway.) This was a nice foil for us as well, as we have been engaging in another chemistry-related visual feast of season four of “Breaking Bad” (about a high school chemistry teacher who has an unusual second job).

The characters, some of whom were brought forward from the earlier novels and some being new, were well described, and they were very clear in my mind who each looked like. (All in black and white like a 1950’s film…!) Flavia is a charming person, endlessly curious and dealing with two older sisters who only view her as an ongoing pest unless she can help them out in some way. A favorite reoccurring character was Dogger, a shell-shocked former prisoner of war who was in battle with Flavia’s father and who he has hired an a general handyman. His PTSD from the war zone is very well done and is this story, a  few more details about his background story were added which were good.

As mentioned, I am not a huge mystery reader, but do like to indulge with these Flavia books every now and then, as they are very “Jolly Hockey Sticks” English and contain lots of references to an old England that I grew up through the reading of Enid Blyton and similar. The mysteries in each of the books are also very cleverly designed to be hard to crack, despite there being lots of clues spread around.

A fun very light-hearted read to kick off the Christmas season for 2011.

2 thoughts on “I am Half-Sick of Shadows – Alan Bradley

  1. I’ve enjoyed the first three Flavia novels and I’m looking forward to this one. I’m hoping to have time to read it over the Christmas period as it sounds like a perfect seasonal book. And I grew up reading Enid Blyton too, which is maybe why I love this series so much!

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