Book review : I am half-sick of shadows

I am Half-Sick of Shadows
by Alan Bradley, 2011
published by Orion Books.

The fourth in his Flavia de Luce series, which also includes

  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie,
  • The Weed That Strings the Hangmans Bag,
  • A Red Herring Without Mustard.

Alan Bradley’s irrepressible 11 year old heroine, Flavia de Luce, stars in this young adult fiction mystery set in post war England. The story is based around the events when a film crew descend on Buckshaw, the de Luce family house, and their leading lady Phyllis Wyvern is murdered. The structure of the story owes something to the great Agatha Christie, with all the suspects being bound within the confines of Buckshaw by a snow storm, and at times, the relationship between the precocious Flavia and Inspector Hewitt does bear more than a passing resemblance to that of Miss Marple to her police assistants.

Despite her ingenious and energetically precocious nature, there are moments when Flavia is revealed as a somewhat innocent 11 year old, which I felt added charm to the character, and helps to remind the reader how young she really is, despite her keen intelligence and passion for diabolical chemistry.

” They were having an affaire, of course,” I added casually, and the Inspectors eyeballs gave an involuntary twitch. I really didn’t 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.’

I also enjoyed Flavias roll-your-sleeves up pragmatism, illustrated in various ways from her wearing of the fathers cast of voluminous and ghastly cardigan against the cold, to her approach to corpses.

“The cuticles formed stark half-moons of greyish white where the colour had not been applied. Feely did her nails in that way too, and I had a sudden but momentary attack of gooseflesh.

Steady on, old girl, I thought. It’s only death.”

The story provides a good range of eccentric suspects, and thankfully the ending did come as a surprise. The final scenes are excitingly action packed, weaving in some of Flavias evil chemical creations in a satisfying way.

My only criticism is that I found it a little difficult to paint an image of the characters, as there are no real descriptions of their physical traits. This may of course be a deliberate policy on the part of the author so that we may imagine however we wish, or perhaps they have been more thoroughly described in previous books.

Overall, I found ‘I am Half-Sick of Shadows‘ to be an engaging piece of light hearted escapism, and thoroughly enjoyable.


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