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The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag    by Alan Bradley order for
Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag
by Alan Bradley
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2011 (2010)
Hardcover, Paperback, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Alan Bradley's The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (the title taken from an admonition from Sir Walter Raleigh to his son quoted at the beginning) is a welcome sequel to The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. That novel introduced one of mystery's freshest and most delightful investigators, eleven-year old Flavia de Luce. She gets around on her trusty bicycle Gladys and has occasional help from Father's Man Dogger, whose 'experiences as a prisoner of war had left something broken inside him'.

This adventure begins for Flavia when, after playing dead in the churchyard, she encounters a bruised and weeping redhead (who looks 'like a hot-tempered version of a Botticelli Venus'). Nialla is the assistant (and more) to famed puppetmaster Rupert Porson of The Magic Kingdom television show. Their van has broken down. The village vicar offers them a campsite at Culverhouse Farm (owned by the Inglebys) and assistance with the repair. In return, they agree to put on two puppet shows of Jack and the Beanstalk in the parish hall. Taking a fancy to Nialla and at loose ends, Flavia hangs around to help.

The Inglebys, on whose land Nialla and Rupert camp, have kept to themselves since the tragic death of their small son, Robin, who was found hanged in nearby Gibbet Wood (Grace Ingleby has been disturbed ever since). Also staying at the farm is a German prisoner-of-war, Dieter Schrantz. He's soon attracted to Flavia's sister Feely - the feeling is mutual. In her wanderings, Flavia uncovers a past connection between Rupert, Dieter, and the Inglebys, as well as dealings in Indian hemp. Then it's time for the shows - though the first is a huge success, the second is disrupted by murder.

The death brings Inspector Hewitt back into Flavia's orbit, though he tries to keep her at arm's length. She starts digging, despite the Inspector's strong reaction to her interference. As the mystery reaches a crescendo in a spooky old dovecote, Flavia ties together a cold case with the new murder and kindly shares her thorough analysis of clues with poor Hewitt. (Balancing this, she does come a cropper with another plot that misfires at the end.) If you're a fan of Anglophile mysteries and haven't found this series yet, you're behind the times. I love young Flavia and can't wait for her next exploits.

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