Tuesday, January 17, 2012

I Am-Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

"I had half a mind to march upstairs to my laboratory, fetch down a jar of cyanide, seize the boob’s nose, tilt his head back, pour the stuff down his throat, and hang the consequences.  Fortunately, good breeding kept me from doing so."-Flavia de Luce
I’m late.  I know, I know.  I was supposed to do my Christmastime book review BEFORE Christmas, but I got sidetracked trying not to lose my mind before the holidays as I’m sure many of you were.  Well, I’m writing my review now.  Who cares if it is mid-January?  It’s the thought that counts...right?
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is a book that can be enjoyed regardless of the season, although it does take place during Christmas, 1950.  The fourth installment  in Alan Bradley’s wildly successful Flavia de Luce series holds its own as a well thought out novel, rather than a piece of holiday fluff.  We find the familiar cast of characters preparing for a film crew to arrive at Buckshaw.  Colonel de Luce is more desperate for money than ever and this film is his last chance to pay off his heaping debts.  It’s also actress Phyllis Wyvern’s last chance at a comeback.  Phyllis is akin to Norma Desmond except with a few more marbles than the Sunset Boulevard icon.  As the film crew rolls into the manor house, Flavia is toiling away at setting a trap to catch Santa Claus.  This subplot is genius on Bradley’s part as it shows us how intelligent and at the same time naive Flavia is.
This section contains a SPOILER!!!


Soon after the crew’s arrival, Phyllis agrees to do a scene from Romeo & Juliet with her longtime costar, Desmond Duncan.  The two were famous for playing the forlorn couple in a film adaptation of Shakespeare’s play...several decades earlier.  The performance is scheduled for December 23rd and the entire village of Bishop’s Lacey travels to Buckshaw for the event just as a winter storm sets in (spooky I know).  However, the town is less than receptive to the performance when the leading lady turns into a raging diva (diva isn’t really the word I wanted to use).  To make matters worse, the blizzard leaves everyone stranded at Buckshaw for the remainder of the evening.  It’s only slightly surprising that amid angry conversations behind closed doors, strange glances, and Phyllis’s subsequent public outburst that she ends up being murdered during the night.  Flavia finds Phyllis slumped in her chair, strangled with a strip of film: one of the actress’s old films as it happens.  With a house full of suspects, what else is Flavia to do but solve the murder herself?  As always, Inspector Hewitt is reluctant to ask for Flavia’s all-too-eager assistance, but succumbs as usual to her persistence and utter brilliance.
Like all of Bradley’s books, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is extremely satisfactory.  We get some great interaction between Flavia and her sisters, as well as an intriguing guest appearance by Flavia’s Aunt Felicity.  Flavia’s aunt has appeared in past novels, but has been portrayed as an old crab.  In this book, we see a more well developed Aunt Felicity: one who had to make some difficult choices during the war which still haunt her.  There are also some brilliant quotes from our innocently diabolical little sleuth.  Whether you’ve read all the de Luce mysteries, or this is your first time at the rodeo, I am confident that you will not be disappointed.