The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag

Written by Alan Bradley
Review by Janet Williamson

Flavia de Luce is eleven years old, bold, precocious and great fun. In 1950 in the village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia lives in a shabby mansion with her remote father, Haviland, and older sisters, Daphne and Ophelia, whom she is at odds with. The book opens in the cemetery with her imagining her own funeral, and their feelings about her passing. She stumbles across a weeping woman, Nialla, accompanied by Rupert Porson, a puppeteer who has achieved television fame, and who is now touring the country with his creations. Their van has broken down, and while the couple wait for repairs to be made, the vicar invites them to perform a show in the village hall.

Flavia is a keen observer and listener and appoints herself as their assistant. Rupert claims never to have visited the village previously, yet one of the marionettes at the performance bears an uncanny resemblance to a boy found hanging in Gibbet Wood many years before. Flavia’s suspicions are aroused, and she begins to investigate the boy’s death using guile, cheek and lies to gain information. In a memorably funny scene involving Mrs.Mullet, the family’s housekeeper, she learns about the boy’s inquest and post-mortem.

As a keen chemist with a specific interest in poisons, Flavia secretes herself in the laboratory of their mansion to analyse and create chemical formulas. She applies the same precise methodology and analysis to the evidence she gathers. When Rupert is murdered and her efforts increase, she finds herself in great danger.

The plot strands draw together as if pulled by a puppet master as Flavia unravels the mysteries surrounding both deaths. In so doing she achieves a deeper understanding with her family.