Flavia fever

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag
by Alan Bradley

It took me a more pages than I was comfortable with to admit I liked Alan Bradley’s first Flavia DeLuce novel, Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I am not a murder-mystery fan, so that may have been part of it. Or maybe what kept me snagged were the incredibly precise chemistry references far beyond my knowledge–but I am a closet Anglophile, a former eleven-year-old girl, and someone who often lives in a melodramatic story-world myself … so what was not to like?  I read Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag with no such reservations and enjoyed every word of it, chemistry or not.

When we catch up with Buckshaw’s residents, Flavia is still mired in constant warfare with her older sisters Daffy and Feely, and Father still hides behind his stamps. Dogger and Mrs. Mullet still hold the seams of the family together, shell-shock and horrid food notwithstanding. And Flavia’s beloved bicycle Gladys still transports her all over Bishop’s Lacey and its environs–and it is Gladys herself who brings Flavia to St. Tancred’s churchyard where she meets Rupert Porson, famed puppeteer of the BBC’s Magic Kingdom television program. In order to pay for repairs to his broken-down caravan, Rupert and his lovely assistant Nialla agree to put on a puppet show in the parish hall.

Enter a mad hermitess, a grief-crazed mother, an unmarried pregnant Mother Goose, a former German POW, and a marijuana (that of the “weed” in the title) growing farmer and you’ve got a Flavia DeLuce novel of the best sort.

The impromptu puppet show ends with a murder, and Flavia sets out (of course) to unravel the mystery. Along the way she uncovers a love affair, reconstructs the truth behind an accidental death, and rescues a suicide with an antidote of (what else?) dove guano! Then, step-by-step Flavia  unfolds her discoveries to her idol Inspector Hewitt. How can one not love this little girl?.

Maybe it was just that I was familiar with the pace of Bradley’s stories and the rhythm of his writing, but this mystery was a more enjoyable read. Or perhaps it was just because I was happy to enter again this quaint and familiar world. After Sweetness I wasn’t certain I’d read Bradley’s second novel; After Weed, I’m anxious for his third.

Ten hours

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter
by Tom Franklin

Post-Christmas open house found me sluggish, lounging on the sofa in my pj’s until 4 PM–and devouring Tom Franklin’s Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter in a mere ten hours. Set in Mississippi in the early seventies and the present, the novel explores the lives of two men, one black, one white, following the murder of a teenage girl in their town. Larry Ott, for years convicted of the crime in the court of public opinion (although no body was ever found, nor did he ever confess), is the town loner, and his (sometimes) black friend Silas Jones returns to his hometown as town constable after serving several years on the police force in Oxford, Mississippi. Their lives connect again when another young woman comes up missing–and Larry Ott is once again the prime suspect.

Franklin wove his narrative in such a way that I was never slowed by the back story he needed to tell. The novel, suprisingly, begins with Larry’s murder-gone-wrong. Silas finds himself drawn back to Larry’s home to gain perspective on their broken childhood friendship. As happens in most Southern novels, Silas discovers a secret in the attic–literally–and tries to come to terms with its implications for the rest of the novel. Silas also has harbored some information for thirty years that would have implicated himself, rather than Larry, in the past murder.

The book’s back cover blurb called the book a “thriller” and suspense novel, which was much too heavy-handed in my view. At novel’s end, we see both men close one door and open another. Silas comes to understand the redemptive power of truth, and Larry begins to learn the strength found in community–but both somewhat grudgingly, and only after suffering in isolation for much too long.

Easy peasy lemon squeezy

Murder at the Watergate
by Margaret Truman

I may be the last reader on earth to try one of Margaret Truman’s Washington “Murder at …” series. A colleague who moved on to another job left it in a crate of books for me to use at school, and I snagged it at the end of the summer while setting up my room. Murder at the Watergate was a surprise–light, breezy and entertaining. Truman shamelessly “place drops” (rather than name drops), so it’s a perfect fit for a news addict like me. I read it over Labor Day and it was a fun cap on my summer reading. I’ve long been a Grisham fan for light reading, but have been disappointed in some of his more recent law books. (Does anyone else think he’s lost his knack for an ending with a twist?) I think when I need fluff, I just might move through some of Truman’s other Murder at … titles.