I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce #4)
It’s Christmastime, and the precocious Flavia de Luce—an eleven-year-old sleuth with a passion for chemistry and a penchant for crime-solving—is tucked away in her laboratory, whipping up a concoction to ensnare Saint Nick. But she is soon distracted when a film crew arrives at Buckshaw, the de Luces’ decaying English estate, to shoot a movie starring the famed Phyllis Wyvern. Amid a raging blizzard, the entire village of Bishop’s Lacey gathers at Buckshaw to watch Wyvern perform, yet nobody is prepared for the evening’s shocking conclusion: a body found, past midnight, strangled to death with a length of film. But who among the assembled guests would stage such a chilling scene? As the storm worsens and the list of suspects grows, Flavia must use every ounce of sly wit at her disposal to ferret out a killer hidden in plain sight.
After the last book, I was actually a little reticent to pick this one up, which wasn’t something I ever expected to happen. I’m very happy to report that my concerns were entirely unfounded. This book returns to the well constructed yarns that Bradley is so well known for. It feels like it picks up where The Weeds that Strings the Hangman’s Bag left off. In fact, I would have considered the series complete with just Books 1, 2 and 4. However, before I devolve into another tangent about how much of an outlier Book 3 is, the point of this little exercise is to discuss this book. I don’t know why I didn’t guess it, but an actress with a similar interest in crime and grisly murders is exactly what Flavia needed, a sort of mother figure without the inconvenience of evil step mothering. She seemed a perfect fit for Flavia. Finally an adult who could commiserate with her and help her solve crimes. However, I would have liked for Wyvern’s cruelty to Bun to be explained in some way instead of simply throwing it in there to add another suspect to the list.
In fact, when it came to the suspects in this particular book they were oddly scarce and Bradley was completely aware of that. I’m not sure what it says about me that I prefer a book wherein there can at least be someone for me to suspect, even if the rug is ripped out from under me later on, but in this book, I found myself not even bothering to guess. Though that could have something to do with the fact that there were so many people in the book that it was actually a little difficult to keep them all straight. You had your main characters and even your minor characters that you recognize from the other books, but in this one, Bradley threw in an entire film crew and then literally half the village. The village I knew, but I actually found it difficult to keep the film crew straight. When the final reveal came, I was a little surprised at who is was and actually found it a little difficult to swallow.
However, aside from that one moment of doubt, the rest of the story is downright delightful. Flavia’s scheme to catch Father Christmas (and I do mean catch) reminded me of all the Christmas mornings when I still believed that a man of magic had delivered presents over night. Bradley’s blizzards actually made me want to be in them because they are the kind of blizzards you survive by hunkering down under a mountain of blankets and reading books until the wind stops blowing. I cheered when Flavia finally called her sisters on their malodorous malarkey and asked them why they hated her so much. Bradley’s true genius lies in his ability to capture a capricious eleven year old and make me love her. I actually mentally reprimanded her sisters when they were awful to her because I knew no one else would and it takes truly good writing to get a reader to parent imaginary characters. I found his revelation about Aunt Felicity to be marvelous. It took a fussy old woman and made her into a the kind of strong woman the era is known for and he did it over the course of a single conversation that she spends half of complaining about her old age.
In the end, this book is lovely and delightful in all the best ways. Flavia is still the chemistry loving child that we have all grown to love. I only wish that she were real and not just a character because the world could use someone like Flavia de Luce.
4.5 ink bottles.
Character Believability: 4 Buffys
Character Investibility: 4 Doctors
Pacing/Tension/Urgency: 4.5 Dresdens
Worldbuilding: 5 Snyders
Language: 5 Feegles
Mystery: 4 Sherlocks