I was driving in my car for long stretches of time this past month, so I decided to take a break from newscasts and listen to a book on CD. I scanned the library shelves for new material, and settled on a favourite author – Alan Bradley. Coincidentally, the book on CD that I selected, I Am Half-Sick Of Shadows, is set at Christmastime. It features the precocious Flavia de Luce, a child sleuth who has appeared in a number of Bradley’s other mysteries. Don’t worry if you have not read the other books in the series, as this novel is charming as a stand-alone novel.
This is the fourth mystery featuring Flavia, who is bold, brilliant, eccentric, and occasionally subject to human weakness. I think that what makes this mystery truly special is that Flavia exposes her vulnerabilities. Ultimately, she is a young girl who wants to believe in Saint Nick, participate in family activities like decorating the Christmas tree, attract her father’s attention, and prove her sleuthing skills to her sisters and the local police.
Busily whipping up a concoction in her laboratory to trap Saint Nick, she is temporarily distracted when a film crew arrives at her home. Buckshaw, her family estate in 1950s England, is in serious disrepair, and her father fears that they may lose their home as he cannot afford the upkeep. Anxious to make some quick money, he agrees to serve as the location for a movie starring the famous Phyllis Wyvern. Phyllis turns out to be a marvelous, scene-stealing character, and I was truly sorry when she was strangled to death. There are many suspects, as many villagers were visiting Buckshaw for a performance on the evening of the murder. A snow-storm keeps everybody trapped at Buckshaw, and creates a chaotic scene perfect for diverting attention from the real killer. A delightful and unexpected ending (yes, a happy ending – how refreshing) makes this book a must-read, or a “must-listen.”
The audio reader of this mystery was Jayne Entwistle, and she gives a great performance. She managed to create many different voices, and gave the book and all the characters an added depth and dimension.
If you have not yet read a book by Canadian author Alan Bradley, then consider this my Christmas gift to you…read a copy while you are curled up in bed sipping hot chocolate. Bradley’s first Flavia de Luce mystery, Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie, received the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award, the Dilys Award, and the Agatha Award for best first novel. Bradley’s bio is quite interesting as he has many interests, including electronic engineering, and he has had a diverse career path working at radio and television stations and a media centre at the University of Saskatchewan. He keep himself busy by teaching script writing and television production courses and, of course, writing.
If you like this book, read the entire series:
The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches (the upcoming 2014 release)
Publisher Summary for The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches:
On a spring morning in 1951, eleven-year-old chemist and aspiring detective Flavia de Luce gathers with her family at the railway station, awaiting the return of her long-lost mother, Harriet. Yet upon the train’s arrival in the English village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is approached by a tall stranger who whispers a cryptic message into her ear. Moments later, he is dead, mysteriously pushed under the train by someone in the crowd. Who was this man, what did his words mean, and why were they intended for Flavia? Back home at Buckshaw, the de Luces’ crumbling estate, Flavia puts her sleuthing skills to the test. Following a trail of clues sparked by the discovery of a reel of film stashed away in the attic, she unravels the deepest secrets of the de Luce clan, involving none other than Winston Churchill himself. Surrounded by family, friends, and a famous pathologist from the Home Office—and making spectacular use of Harriet’s beloved Gipsy Moth plane, Blithe Spirit—Flavia will do anything, even take to the skies, to land a killer.
Another Christmas mystery recommendation:
A Christmas Hope by Anne Perry
Claudine Burroughs–who works with William Monk’s wife Hester at the women’s clinic–expects nothing but an unbearably boring several hours from a Christmas party she attends with her husband. However, when an endearingly romantic poet has his prostitute companion crash the glittering event–and the woman winds up dead–Claudine has more on her hands than she bargained for. Feeling sorry for the poet, she sets out to uncover the truth about what happened, in hopes of preventing his Christmas from being a dark one. Publisher Summary