The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, Alan Bradley
With Flavia de Luce, Bradley has created a compelling new detective: a mercurial (wouldn’t Flavia appreciate that adjective?), hot-tempered, brilliant child with the chemical know-how and vocabulary of a postdoc. Astride her bicycle Gladys, Flavia boils through her sleepy town, left to her own devices by an absent-minded father and two dismissive elder sisters. She’s always in somebody’s business, a magpie of fact-finding, which comes in handy when crime descends.
I remember first-book Flavia as clever and refreshingly blunt, with a particular dislike for behaving herself unless she sees reason for it. Unfortunately, in the second novel these traits are taken cartoonishly far. This Flavia expertly manipulates all adults; she displays no emotions except feverish curiosity, rage, or pride. She’s constantly breaking and entering and pretending to be innocent to wring information from old ladies. Her sole affections are reserved for poisons and occasionally the family gardener. Her mix of hyper-intelligence and and childish inexperience with adult emotions makes her wholly unsympathetic, and with so much racing about, I felt dragged behind, not swept up. Coupled with a second murder seeming far less probable in such a tiny town, this makes Weed less strong than its predecessor. Still enjoyable, but it didn’t make me want to rush out for the next book.