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I Am Half-Sick of Shadows    by Alan Bradley order for
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
by Alan Bradley
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2012 (2011)
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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is the fourth (following The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, and A Red Herring Without Mustard) in Alan Bradley's delightful and endearing historical mystery series starring precocious eleven-year-old chemist/PI Flavia de Luce in Bishop's Lacey, England.

In addition to the individual mysteries, the author tantalizes readers with the motivation behind the long-running hostilities between Flavia and her two elder sisters, narcissistic seventeen-year-old Ophelia and bookish thirteen-year-old Daphne. We also wonder about the rather mysterious death of her mother Harriet, why her philatelist father is so withdrawn, and what exactly is the background of shell-shocked Dogger, who survived a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp.

As I Am Half-Sick of Shadows opens just before Christmas, the de Luce family fortunes remain in very bad shape, so much so that Colonel de Luce has taken the surprising step of renting the snowbound mansion to a film company for the holidays. Flavia is soon busy making the acquaintance of the company's star, the famous (though aging) actress Phyllis Wyvern. She has other irons in the fire as well, in particular her 'long laid plans to trap ... Scientifically' Father Christmas. 'Would chemistry put paid to Christmas' for Flavia, who's still a believer?

And of course, there's soon a murder for Flavia to investigate - and a houseful of suspects. After Phyllis Wyvern agrees to a charity performance of Romeo and Juliet at Buckshaw Manor, the entire village of Bishop’s Lacey turns out for the performance - and they all end up staying over after a blizzard strikes. Flavia discovers the corpse in the dead of night, and eventually gets rather too close to the killer. Luckily her sticky Santa trap saves the day.

It was fun to meet a very pregnant Nialla (last seen in The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag) again, and I always enjoy Flavia's interactions with Inspector Hewitt, whose gray hairs must be multiplying as a result. If you're looking for a holiday mystery, look no further - Flavia's is the one!

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