Title: The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
Author: Alan Bradley
Publication Year: 2010
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Source: ARC from LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers program
When this book arrived in the mail a few weeks ago, I read the first couple chapters, and then it sat on my bedside table until the middle of last week.
It’s not that I forgot about it. Oh, no. I looked at it at least a couple times every single day, and wondered why I didn’t want to return to its story. I even read a couple more chapters, sporadically, but didn’t get very far. The story wasn’t drawing me in at all. I just couldn’t figure it out!
Then last week, I realized that I should really get back to trying to read it, since the release date was coming up. I spent an hour or so reading one night, struggling through it – and then, suddenly, I realized that I wasn’t struggling anymore! I was actually enjoying it!
After spending almost the first half of the book reluctantly plowing through, the remainder of the story carried me along quickly and enjoyably. Imagine that! Usually, I give up on a book if it doesn’t hold my attention after the first couple of chapters, but I’m really glad that I stuck with The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. It definitely picked up.
I think, in retrospect, that I had trouble getting through the first part of the book because of the pacing. Alan Bradley himself said, in an “Amazon Exclusive” essay about The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (the first book about Flavia de Luce):
Of course, to convey authentic 1950s voices, the pacing would have to be slower than we are used to in the 21st century. On the other hand, a more relaxed narrative would allow for an additional overall richness of description that might not be found in a more breakneck series of thrillers.
The first half of the book moved rather slowly. In fact, it took that long before the murder actually happened. I think that’s part of what kept me back. It just felt like the story wasn’t going anywhere! But like I said, once I got past that point, the narrative picked up, and Flavia swept me up into her mind. I actually started to like her.
Flavia is definitely a “character”, a headstrong (almost-)11-year old with a penchant for chemistry and poisons. Her sisters hate her and basically try to make her life miserable, and otherwise, she just runs around on her own with nobody really watching over her. She was a fun character, but not really all that believable – she had too much knowledge, too quick a wit, and definitely understood science far too well for most adults, never mind children. But once the story picked up, it was pretty easy to exercise some suspension of disbelief and just go with the presentation of her as an extremely bright and smart-alecky kid.
Sadly, there were some things that didn’t make sense to me because I haven’t read the first book of the series. Now that I’ve read The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag (and ultimately enjoyed it), I’m going to have to add The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie to my TBR pile.
If you’re into mysteries and fun, adult-like child characters, I’d definitely recommend this series to you. It was fun and you really started to connect with Flavia as the story progressed. She’s a fun mind to spend a few hours inside!