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Saturday, December 10, 2011

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, written by Alan Bradley. Doubleday, Random House. 2011. $29.95 ages 12 and up

"I had half a mind to march upstairs to my laboratory, fetch down a jar of cyanide, seize this boob's nose, tilt his head back, pour the stuff down his throat, and hang the consequences. Fortunately, good breeding kept me from doing so."

I could honestly just fill this post with quote after quote from Flavia's latest case. She has such character and voice...I never want to finish reading her stories. I know that I have mentioned in other posts my trepidation when sitting down with the 'next' book in hand, and wondering if it can continue to provide the immense pleasure felt while reading the 'others'. Right now, Alan Bradley has me impatiently anticipating her fifth case! I hope the wait is not interminable.

The sheriff has threatened foreclosure if back taxes remain unpaid so Flavia's father has agreed to let a film company use the family estate as the setting for a new movie. Of course, Flavia's reclusive father is not pleased with this turn of events; the daughters, on the other hand, are quite interested to see what might arise with numerous guests at hand and a film to be made. No Christmas for the de Luces this year. The film company arrives, invites villagers to a free Christmas Eve performance by its two famous stars. When the house has filled to bursting with guests, a blizzard keeps them trapped there.

Following the performance one of the stars is found murdered (by Flavia, of course) and she does her best to solve the mystery that surrounds that death. As well as searching for clues that will help the local law enforcement with its investigation, she is making plans for a Christmas Eve trap for Santa and a light show that will be seen for miles:

"It was important to keep in mind the fact that winter fireworks required a different formula than those designed for summer. The basic idea was this: less sulfur and lots more gunpowder.
I had concocted the gunpowder myself from niter, sulfur, charcoal and a happy heart. When working with explosives, Ive found that attitude is everything."

With aplomb and great deductive reasoning (including almost being done in by the murderers) Flavia solves the case and is able to explain her findings:

"They were having an affair, of course," I added cautiously, and the Inspector's eyeballs gave an involuntary twitch. I didn't really understand all that was involved in such a relationship, and I didn't much care, actually. Once, when I had asked Dogger what was meant by the phrase, he had told me that it described two people who had become the very best of friends, and that was good enough for me."

The Inspector is suitably impressed by Flavia's work once again:

"Well done? I tried not to simper. This was high praise from a man who had, at our first meeting, sent me off to rustle up some tea.

"You're very kind," I said, anxious to make the moment last.
"I am, indeed," he said.  "I've found exasperation to be quite useless."

She has even managed to impress her father:
"My father is not a hugger, but I wanted to hug him. I wanted to run after him and throw my arms around him and hug him until the jam ran out.
But of course, I didn't. We de Luces do not gush."

Her sisters are not so complimentary and want to be sure she realizes just what a ridiculous chance she had taken in facing the murderers, almost losing her own life and ending up with frostbitten fingers:
"Oh, just you wait," Feely said. "Another twenty-four hours and they'll begin to turn black, after which they'll fall off. You'll need to have hooks fitted, won't she, Daff? Five little hooks on each hand. Dr. Darby says you're lucky. They've improved hooks by leaps and bounds in the past few years, and you might even be able to -"

His characters are exemplary and true to everything we already know about them. I could still wring both sisters' necks, Dogger is doggedly loyal and helpful to all family members while being especially empathetic to Flavia and her many dilemmas. Buckshaw is a perfect setting for this good old-fashioned murder mystery, with its many rooms, concealed spaces and stairways, and its magnificent rooftop.

If you have not yet met Flavia and the de Luce family, the people of Bishop's Lacey and the local constabulary, you are missing great entertainment! If you are looking for a wondrous family readaloud this Christmas, this is it!

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