The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Flavia de Luce Series #2)

The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Flavia de Luce Series #2)

4.2 171
by Alan Bradley

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Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce didn’t intend to investigate another murder — but then, Rupert Porson didn’t intend to die. When the master puppeteer’s van breaks down in the village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is front and centre to help Rupert and his charming assistant, Nialla, put together a performance in the local church to help pay


Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce didn’t intend to investigate another murder — but then, Rupert Porson didn’t intend to die. When the master puppeteer’s van breaks down in the village of Bishop’s Lacey, Flavia is front and centre to help Rupert and his charming assistant, Nialla, put together a performance in the local church to help pay the repair bill. But even as the newcomers set up camp and set the stage for Jack and the Beanstalk, there are signs that something just isn’t right: Nialla’s strange bruises and solitary cries in the churchyard, Rupert’s unexplained disappearances and a violent argument with his BBC producer, the disturbing atmosphere at Culverhouse Farm, and the peculiar goings-on in nearby Gibbet Wood — where young Robin Ingleby was found hanging just five years before.

It’s enough to set Flavia’s detective instincts tingling and her chemistry lab humming. What are Rupert and Nialla trying to hide? Why are Grace and Gordon Ingleby, Robin’s still-grieving parents, acting so strangely? And what does Mad Meg mean when she says the Devil has come back to Gibbet Wood? Then it’s showtime for Porson’s Puppets at St. Tancred’s — but as Nialla plays Mother Goose, Rupert’s goose gets cooked as the victim of an electrocution that is too perfectly planned to be an accident. Someone had set the stage for murder.

Putting down her sister-punishing experiments and picking up her trusty bicycle, Gladys, Flavia uncovers long-buried secrets of Bishop’s Lacey, the seemingly idyllic village that is nevertheless home to a madwoman living in its woods, a prisoner-of-war with a soft spot for the English countryside, and two childless parents with a devastating secret. While the local police do their best to keep up with Flavia in solving Rupert’s murder, his killer may pull Flavia in way over her head, to a startling discovery that reveals the chemical composition of vengeance.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Bradley’s endlessly entertaining follow-up to 2009’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie finds precocious 11-year-old Flavia de Luce once again indulging her curiosity about corpses. Wandering near her threadbare ancestral home in early 1950s England, Flavia bumps into famed TV puppeteer Rupert Porson and his pregnant wife, who have been marooned by an ailing van. While they wait for repairs to be completed, they agree to put on a performance for the village of Bishop’s Lacey—but Rupert’s sudden death ends the show. Feigning an innocence entirely at odds with her shrewdness about adult doings, Flavia uses her skills in chemistry and questioning to puzzle out which of the many possible suspects murdered Rupert and why. The author deftly evokes the period, but Flavia’s sparkling narration is the mystery’s chief delight. Comic and irreverent, this entry is sure to build further momentum for the series. (Mar.)
Library Journal
When our heroine, conducting a mock funeral for herself in the village churchyard, encounters a weeping red-headed woman, the 11-year-old's precocious wit and sympathy immediately charm the tearful Nialla: "I like you, Flavia de Luce." The many readers who made Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie a best seller will concur, and newcomers, too, will fall under Flavia's spell in this second sleuthing adventure. Nialla is the assistant to master puppeteer Rupert Porson, whose van has broken down in the English hamlet of Bishop's Lacey. When he is fatally electrocuted during a performance, Nialla becomes a suspect in his murder. Putting aside her chemistry experiments and poisoning plots against her tormenting older sisters, Flavia sets out on her trusty bike, Gladys, to investigate. VERDICT While the plot at times stretches credulity, with some characters veering close to Agatha Christie stereotypes, Flavia is such an entertaining narrator that most readers will cheerfully go along for the ride. Sure to appeal to Anglophiles and mystery fans nostalgic for the genre's Golden Age. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 11/1/09; see Prepub Alert, LJ 11/1/09; library marketing; available as an ebook and unabridged CD.]—Wilda Williams, Library Journal
Kirkus Reviews
Almost 11 and keen on poisons, Flavia de Luce gets a second chance to broaden her lethal knowledge. Roused from a detailed fantasy of her own funeral by a nosy jackdaw and the sound of a woman weeping, Flavia encounters Mother Goose-or so the pretty redhead introduces herself. Actually Nialla only plays the role in Rupert Porson's puppet show, currently bogged down with van trouble. The vicar of Bishop's Lacey suggests a mechanic and puts the puppeteer and his assistant up with the Inglebys at Culverhouse Farm. Rupert will repay the help by staging his production of "Jack and the Beanstalk" at St. Tancred's parish hall. Oddly, although Rupert claims never to have met the Inglebys before, his Jack puppet bears the face of their son Robin, deceased five years ago in what a 1945 inquest termed misadventure. Inspector Hewitt, whose first acquaintance with Flavia (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, 2009) solved a murder, must wait patiently once more while Flavia chats up the neighbors, breaks into the library, researches the past, washes down scones, horehound candies and cucumber sandwiches with tea, and sabotages a box of chocolates meant for one of her tormenting sisters. A gloriously eccentric cast of characters, from Flavia's dad, whose stamp collection is bankrupting the ancestral digs, to her sisters Ophelia and Daphne, who tell Flavia she was a foundling. There's not a reader alive who wouldn't want to watch Flavia in her lab concocting some nefarious brew.
From the Publisher
Selected praise for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
“One of the hottest reads of 2009.”
— The Times (U.K.)
“Sure in its story, pace and voice, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie deliciously mixes all the ingredients of great storytelling. The kind of novel you can pass on to any reader knowing their pleasure is assured.”
— Andrew Pyper, acclaimed author of The Killing Circle
“A wickedly clever story, a dead true and original voice, and an English country house in the summer: Alexander McCall Smith meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Please, please, Mr. Bradley, tell me we will be seeing Flavia again soon?”
— Laurie R. King, bestselling author of The Game
“Alan Bradley brews a bubbly beaker of fun in his devilishly clever, wickedly amusing debut mystery, launching an eleven-year-old heroine with a passion for chemistry — and revenge! What a delightful, original book!”
— Carolyn Hart, award-winning author of Death Walked In
“Alan Bradley’s marvelous book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, is a fantastic read, a winner. Flavia walks right off the page and follows me through my day. I can hardly wait for the next book. Bravo.”
— Louise Penny, acclaimed author of Still Life
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is an absolute treat. It is original, clever, entertaining and funny. Bradley, whose biography suggests he did not spend a great deal of time in 1950s rural England where his novel is set, has captured a moment in time perfectly.”
— Material Witness (e-zine)
“If ever there were a sleuth who’s bold, brilliant, and, yes, adorable, it’s Flavia de Luce, the precocious 11-year-old at the center of this scrumptious first novel… Her sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, and the loyal family retainer, Dogger, are among the book’s retinue of outstanding characters.”
— USA Today
“Oh how astonishing and pleasing is genuine originality! . . . I simply cannot recall the last time I so enjoyed being in the company of a first-person narrator…. This is a book which triumphantly succeeds in its objectives of charming and delighting. And on top of that it is genuinely original.”
— Reviewing the Evidence (e-zine)
“Like just about everybody else I've been reading — just finished reading, in fact — Alan Bradley’s altogether admirable The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It made me very happy, for all kinds of reasons: for its humour, for the wonderful invention of the 11-year-old chemist-detective Flavia de Luce, for its great attention to period detail, and mostly because it was so deft and assured, from top to tail.”
— CBC Radio host Bill Richardson, in The Globe and Mail

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Flavia de Luce Series , #2
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)
950L (what's this?)

Read an Excerpt


I was lying dead in the churchyard. an hour had crept by since the mourners had said their last sad farewells.

At twelve o'clock, just at the time we should otherwise have been sitting down to lunch, there had been the departure from Buckshaw: my polished rosewood coffin brought out of the drawing room, carried slowly down the broad stone steps to the driveway, and slid with heartbreaking ease into the open door of the waiting hearse, crushing beneath it a little bouquet of wild flowers that had been laid tenderly inside by one of the grieving villagers.

Then there had been the long drive down the avenue of chestnuts to the Mulford Gates, whose rampant griffins looked away as we passed, though whether in sadness or in apathy I would never know.

Dogger, Father's devoted jack-of-all-trades, had paced in measured step alongside the slow hearse, his head bowed, his hand resting lightly on its roof, as if to shield my remains from something that only he could see. At the gates, one of the undertaker's mutes had finally coaxed him, by using hand signals, into a hired motor car.
And so they had brought me to the village of Bishop's Lacey, passing sombrely through the same green lanes and dusty hedgerows I had bicycled every day when I was alive.

At the heaped-up churchyard of St Tancred's, they had taken me gently from the hearse and borne me at a snail's pace up the path beneath the limes. Here, they had put me down for a moment in the new-mown grass.

Then had come the service at the gaping grave, and there had been a note of genuine grief in the voice of the vicar, as he pronounced the traditional words.

It was the first time I'd heard the Order for the Burial of the Dead from this vantage point. We had attended last year, with Father, the funeral of old Mr Dean, the village greengrocer. His grave, in fact, was just a few yards from where I was presently lying. It had already caved in, leaving not much more than a rectangular depression in the grass which was, more often than not, filled with stagnant rainwater.

My oldest sister, Ophelia, said it collapsed because Mr Dean had been resurrected, and was no longer bodily present, while Daphne, my other sister, said it was because he had plummeted through into an older grave whose occupant had disintegrated.

I thought of the soup of bones below: the soup of which I was about to become just another ingredient.

Flavia Sabina de Luce, 1939-1950, they would cause to be carved on my gravestone, a modest and tasteful grey marble thing with no room for false sentiments.

Pity. If I'd lived long enough, I'd have left written instructions calling for a touch of Wordsworth:

A maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love.

And if they'd baulked at that, I'd have left this as my second choice:

Truest hearts by deeds unkind
To despair are most inclined.

Only Feely, who had played and sung them at the piano, would recognise the lines from Thomas Campion's Third Book of Airs, and she would be too consumed by guilty grief to tell anyone.

My thoughts were interrupted by the vicar's voice.

"…earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection to eternal life, through our Lord Jesus Christ; who shall change our vile body…"

And suddenly they had gone, leaving me there alone - alone to listen for the worms.

This was it: the end of the road for poor Flavia.

By now the family would already be back at Buckshaw, gathered round the long refectory table: Father seated in his usual stony silence, Daffy and Feely hugging one another with slack, tear-stained faces as Mrs Mullet, our cook, brought in a platter of baked meats.

I remembered something that Daffy had once told me when she was devouring The Odyssey: that baked meats, in ancient Greece, were traditional funeral fare, and I had replied that in view of Mrs Mullet's cooking, not much had changed in two and a half thousand years.

But now that I was dead, I thought, perhaps I ought to practise being somewhat more charitable.

Dogger, of course, would be inconsolable. Dear Dogger: butler-cum-chauffeur-cum-valet-cum-gardener-cum-estate-manager: a poor shell-shocked soul whose capabilities ebbed and flowed like the Severn tides; Dogger, who had recently saved my life and forgotten it by the next morning. I should miss him terribly.

And I should miss my chemistry laboratory. I thought of all the golden hours I'd spent there in that abandoned wing of Buckshaw, blissfully alone among the flasks, the retorts and the cheerily bubbling tubes and beakers. And to think that I'd never see them again. It was almost too much to bear.

I listened to the rising wind as it whispered overhead in the branches of the yew trees. It was already growing cool here in the shadows of St Tancred's tower, and it would soon be dark.

Poor Flavia! Poor stone-cold-dead Flavia.

By now, Daffy and Feely would be wishing that they hadn't been so downright rotten to their little sister during her brief eleven years on this earth.

At the thought, a tear started down my cheek.

Would Harriet be waiting to welcome me to Heaven?

Harriet was my mother, who had died in a mountaineering accident a year after I was born. Would she recognise me after ten years? Would she still be dressed in the mountain-climbing suit she was wearing when she met her end, or would she have swapped it by now for a white robe?

Well, whatever she was wearing, I knew it would be stylish.

There was a sudden clatter of wings: a noise that echoed loudly from the stone wall of the church, amplified to an alarming volume by a half-acre of stained glass and the leaning gravestones that hemmed me in. I froze.

Could it be an angel - or more likely, an archangel - coming down to return Flavia's precious soul to Paradise? If I opened my eyes the merest slit, I could see through my eyelashes, but only dimly.

No such luck: it was one of the tattered jackdaws that were always hanging round St Tancred's. These vagabonds had been nesting in the tower since its thirteenth-century stonemasons had packed up their tools and departed.

Now the idiotic bird had landed clumsily on top of a marble finger that pointed to Heaven, and was regarding me coolly, its head cocked to one side, with its bright, ridiculous boot-button eyes.

Jackdaws never learn. No matter how many times I played this trick, they always, sooner or later, came flapping down from the tower to investigate. To the primeval mind of a jackdaw, any body horizontal in a churchyard could have only one meaning: food.

As I had done a dozen times before, I leapt to my feet and flung the stone that was concealed in my curled fingers. I missed—but then I nearly always did.

With an "awk" of contempt, the thing sprang into the air and flapped off behind the church, towards the river.

Now that I was on my feet, I realised I was hungry. Of course I was! I hadn't eaten since breakfast. For a moment I wondered vaguely if I might find a few leftover jam tarts or a bit of cake in the kitchen of the parish hall. The St Tancred's Ladies' Auxiliary had gathered the night before, and there was always the chance.

As I waded through the knee-high grass, I heard a peculiar snuffling sound, and for a moment I thought the saucy jackdaw had come back to have the last word.

I stopped and listened.


And then it came again.

I find it sometimes a curse and sometimes a blessing that I have inherited Harriet's acute sense of hearing, since I am able, as I am fond of telling Feely, to hear things that would make your hair stand on end. One of the sounds to which I am particularly attuned is the sound of someone crying.

It was coming from the north-west corner of the churchyard - from somewhere near the wooden shed in which the sexton kept his grave-digging tools. As I crept slowly forward on tiptoe, the sound grew louder: someone was having a good old-fashioned cry, of the knock-'em-down-drag-'em-out variety.

It is a simple fact of nature that while most men can walk right past a weeping woman as if their eyes are blinkered and their ears stopped up with sand, no female can ever hear the sound of another in distress without rushing instantly to her aid.

I peeped round a black marble column, and there she was, stretched out full length, face down on the slab of a limestone tomb, her red hair flowing out across the weathered inscription like rivulets of blood. Except for the cigarette wedged stylishly erect between her fingers, she might have been a painting by one of the Pre-Raphaelites, such as Burne-Jones. I almost hated to intrude.

"Hullo," I said. "Are you all right?"

It is another simple fact of nature that one always begins such conversations with an utterly stupid remark. I was sorry the instant I'd uttered it.

"Oh! Of course I'm all right," she cried, leaping to her feet and wiping her eyes. "What do you mean by creeping up on me like that? Who are you, anyway?"

With a toss of her head she flung back her hair and stuck out her chin. She had the high cheekbones and the dramatically triangular face of a silent cinema star, and I could see by the way she bared her teeth that she was terrified.

"Flavia," I said. "My name is Flavia de Luce. I live near here - at Buckshaw."

I jerked my thumb in the general direction.

She was still staring at me like a woman in the grip of a nightmare.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't mean to startle you."

She pulled herself up to her full height - which couldn't have been much more than five feet and an inch or two - and took a step towards me, like a hot-tempered version of the Botticelli Venus that I'd once seen on a Huntley and Palmer's biscuit tin.

I stood my ground, staring at her dress. It was a creamy cotton print with a gathered bodice and a flaring skirt, covered all over with a myriad of tiny flowers, red, yellow, blue, and a bright orange the colour of poppies, and, I couldn't help noticing, a hem that was stained with half-dried mud.

"What's the matter?" she asked, taking an affected drag at her angled cigarette. "Never seen anyone famous before?"

Famous? I hadn't the faintest idea who she was. I had half a mind to tell her that I had indeed seen someone famous, and that it was Winston Churchill. Father had pointed him out to me from a London taxicab. Churchill had been standing in front of the Savoy with his thumbs hooked in his waistcoat pockets, talking to a man in a yellow mackintosh.

"Good old Winnie," Father had breathed, as if to himself.

"Oh, what's the use?" the woman said. "Bloody place… bloody people… bloody motor cars!" And she began to cry again.

"Is there something I can do to help?" I asked.

"Oh, go away and leave me alone," she sobbed.

Very well, then, I thought. Actually, I thought more than that, but since I'm trying to be a better person…

I stood there for a moment, leaning forward a bit to see if her fallen tears were reacting with the porous surface of the tombstone. Tears, I knew, were composed largely of water, sodium chloride, manganese, and potassium, while limestone was made up chiefly of calcite, which was soluble in sodium chloride - but only at high temperatures. So unless the temperature of St Tancred's churchyard went up suddenly by several hundred degrees, it seemed unlikely that anything chemically interesting was going to be happening here.

I turned and walked away.


I looked back. She was reaching out a hand to me.

"I'm sorry," she said. "It's just that it's been an awfully bloody day all round."

I stopped - then paced slowly, warily back as she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand.

"Rupert was in a foul mood to begin with - even before we left Stoatmoor this morning. We'd had rather a row, I'm afraid, and then the whole business with the van - it was simply the last straw. He's gone off to find someone to fix it, and I'm… well, here I am."

"I like your red hair," I said. She touched it instantly and smiled, as I somehow knew she would.

"Carrot-top, they used to call me when I was your age. Carrot-top! Fancy!"

"Carrot tops are green," I said. "Who's Rupert?"

"Who's Rupert?" she asked. "You're having me on!"

She pointed a finger and I turned to look: parked in the lane at the corner of the churchyard was a dilapidated van - an Austin Eight. On its side panel, in showy gold circus letters, still legible through a heavy coating of mud and dust, were the words "PORSON'S PUPPETS."

"Rupert Porson," she said. "Everyone knows Rupert Porson. Rupert Porson, as in Snoddy the Squirrel - The Magic Kingdom. Haven't you seen him on the television?"

Snoddy the Squirrel? The Magic Kingdom?

"We don't have the television at Buckshaw," I said. "Father says it's a filthy invention."

"Father is an uncommonly wise man," she said. "Father is undoubtedly -"

She was interrupted by the metallic rattle of a loose chain-guard as the vicar came wobbling round the corner of the church. He dismounted and leaned his battered Raleigh up against a handy headstone. As he walked towards us, I reflected that Canon Denwyn Richardson was not anyone's image of a typical village vicar. He was large and bluff and hearty, and if he'd had tattoos, he might have been mistaken for the captain of one of those rusty tramp steamers that drags itself wearily from one sundrenched port to another in whatever God-awful outposts are still left of the British Empire.

His black clerical outfit was smudged and streaked with chalky dust, as if he'd come a cropper on his bicycle.

"Blast!" he said when he spotted me. "I've lost my trouser clip and torn my cuff to ribbons," and then, dusting himself off as he walked towards us, he added, "Cynthia's going to have me on the carpet."

The woman's eyes widened and she shot me a quick glance.

"She's recently begun scratching my initials on my belongings with a needle," he added, "but that hasn't kept me from losing things. Last week the hectograph sheets for the parish bulletin, the week before a brass doorknob from the vestry. Maddening, really.

"Hello, Flavia," he added. "Always nice to see you at church."

"This is our vicar, Canon Richardson," I told the redheaded woman. "Perhaps he can help."

"Denwyn," the vicar said, holding out a hand to the stranger. "We don't stand much on ceremony since the war."

The woman stuck out two or three fingers and touched his palm, but said nothing. As she extended her hand, the short sleeve of her dress slid up, and I had a quick glimpse of the ugly green and purple bruise on her upper arm. She covered it hastily with her left hand as she tugged the cotton fabric down to hide it.

"And how may I be of service?" the vicar asked, gesturing towards the van. "It is not often that we, in our bucolic little backwater, are called upon to minister to such august theatre folk."

She smiled gamely. "Our van's broken down - or as good as. Something to do with the carburettor. If it had been anything electrical, I'm sure Rupert could have mended it in a flash, but I'm afraid the fuel system is beyond him."

"Dear, dear!" the vicar said. "I'm sure Bert Archer, at the garage, can put it right for you. I'll ring him up, if you like."

"Oh, no," the woman said quickly - perhaps too quickly, ";we wouldn't want you to go to any trouble. Rupert's gone down the high street. He's probably already found someone."

"If he had, he'd be back by now," the vicar said. "Let me ring Bert. He often slips home for a nap in the afternoon. He's not as young as he was, you know - nor are any of us, if it comes to that. Still, it is a favourite maxim of mine that when dealing with motor mechanics - even tame ones - it never does one any harm to have the blessing of the Church."

"Oh, no. It's too much trouble. I'm sure we'll be just fine."

"Nonsense," the vicar said, already moving off among the forest of gravestones and making at full speed for the rectory. "No trouble at all. I'll be back in a jiffy."

"Vicar!" the woman called. "Please…"

He stopped in mid-stride and came reluctantly back towards us.

"It's just that… you see, we…"

"Aha! A question of money, then," the vicar said.

She nodded sadly, her head down, her red hair cascading over her face.

"I'm sure something can be arranged," the vicar said. "Ah! Here's your husband now."

A little man with an oversized head and a lopsided gait was stumping towards us across the churchyard, his right leg swinging out at each step in a wide, awkward semicircle. As he approached, I saw that his calf was caged in a heavy iron brace.

He must have been in his forties, but it was difficult to tell.

In spite of his diminutive size, his barrel chest and powerful upper arms seemed ready to burst out of the seersucker suit that confined them. By contrast, his right leg was pitiful: by the way in which his trousers clung, and flapped uselessly around what lay beneath, I could see that it was little more than a matchstick. With his huge head, he looked to me like nothing so much as a giant octopus, stalking on uneven tentacles through the churchyard.

He lurched to a halt and deferentially lifted a flat peaked motoring cap, revealing an unruly mop of pale blond hair that matched precisely his little Vandyke goatee.

"Rupert Porson, I presume?" the vicar said, giving the newcomer a jolly, hale-fellow-well-met handshake. "I'm Denwyn Richardson - and this is my young friend, Flavia de Luce."

Porson nodded at me and shot an almost invisibly quick, dark glance at the woman before turning on the full beam of a searchlight smile.

"Spot of engine trouble, I understand," the vicar went on. "Quite maddening. Still, if it has brought the creator of The Magic Kingdom and Snoddy the Squirrel into our midst - well, it just proves the old adage, doesn't it?"

He didn't say which old adage he was referring to, nor did anyone care enough to ask.

"I was about to remark to your good wife," the vicar said, "that St Tancred's would be honoured indeed if you might see your way clear to presenting a little entertainment in the parish hall whilst your van is being repaired? I realise, of course, how much in demand you must be, but I should be negligent if I didn't at least make the attempt on behalf of the children - and yes, the grown-ups, too! - of Bishop's Lacey. It is good, now and then, to allow children to launch an attack upon their money-boxes in a worthy cultural cause, don't you agree?"

"Well, Vicar," Porson said, in a honeyed voice - too big, too resonant, too mellifluous, I thought, for such a tiny man - "we do have rather a tight timetable. Our tour has been gruelling, you see, and London calls…"

"I understand," said the vicar.

"But," Porson added, lifting a dramatic forefinger, "nothing would delight us more than being allowed to sing for our supper, as it were. Isn't that so, Nialla? It shall be quite like the old days."

The woman nodded, but said nothing. She was staring off at the hills beyond.

"Well, then," the vicar said, rubbing his hands together vigorously, as if he were making fire, "it's all arranged. Come along and I'll show you the hall. It's rather tatty, but it does boast a stage, and the acoustics are said to be quite remarkable."

With that, the two men disappeared round the back of the church.

For a moment there seemed nothing to say. And then the woman spoke:

"You wouldn't happen to have a cigarette, would you? I'm dying for a smoke."

I gave my head a rather idiotic shake.

"Hmmm," she said. "You look like the kind of kid who might have."

For the first time in my life, I was speechless.

"I don't smoke," I managed.

"And why is that?" she asked. "Too young or too wise?"

"I was thinking of taking it up next week," I said lamely. "I just hadn't actually got round to it yet."

She threw her head back and laughed toothily, like a film star.

"I like you, Flavia de Luce," she said. "But I have the advantage, don't I? You've told me your name, but I haven't told you mine."

"It's Nialla," I said. "Mr Porson called you Nialla."

She stuck out her hand, her face grave.

"That's right," she said, "he did. But you can call me Mother Goose."

What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
“Flavia is incisive, cutting and hilarious . . . one of the most remarkable creations in recent literature.”—USA Today

“Utterly beguiling . . . wicked wit . . . The real delight here is [Flavia’s] droll voice and the eccentric cast.”—People (four stars)

“Bradley takes everything you expect and subverts it, delivering a smart, irreverent, unsappy mystery.”  —Entertainment Weekly
“A pitch-perfect performance that surpasses an already worthy debut.”—Houston Chronicle

“Discovering Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce books is several steps beyond pleasure—it’s a sheer delight.”—Winston-Salem Journal
“Wickedly funny.”—The Times-Picayune

Meet the Author

Alan Bradley was born in Toronto and grew up in Cobourg, Ontario. With an education in electronic engineering, Alan worked at numerous radio and television stations in Ontario, and at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University) in Toronto, before becoming Director of Television Engineering in the media centre at the University of Saskatchewan, where he worked for twenty-five years before taking early retirement in 1994.
Bradley was the first President of the Saskatoon Writers, and a founding member of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. His children’s stories were published in The Canadian Children’s Annual and his short story “Meet Miss Mullen” was the first recipient of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for Children’s Literature.
For a number of years, Alan regularly taught scriptwriting and television production courses at the University of Saskatchewan. His fiction has been published in literary journals and he has given many public readings in schools and galleries. His short stories have been broadcast by CBC Radio, and his lifestyle and humour pieces have appeared in The Globe and Mail and The National Post.
Alan Bradley was also a founding member of The Casebook of Saskatoon, a society devoted to the study of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockian writings. There, he met the late Dr. William A.S. Sarjeant, with whom he collaborated on the classic book Ms. Holmes of Baker Street (1989). This work put forth the startling theory that the Great Detective was a woman, and was greeted upon publication with what has been described as “a firestorm of controversy.” As he’s explained in interviews, Bradley was always an avid reader of mysteries, even as a child: “My grandmother used to press them upon us when we were very young. One of the first books she gave me was Dorothy L. Sayers’ Busman’s Holiday. I was profoundly influenced by it.”
Upon retirement, Bradley began writing full time. His next book, The Shoebox Bible (2006), has been compared with Tuesdays With Morrie and Mister God, This is Anna. In this beautiful memoir, Bradley tells the story of his early life in southern Ontario, and paints a vivid portrait of his mother, a strong and inspirational woman who struggled to raise three children on her own during tough times.
In July of 2007, Bradley won the Debut Dagger Award from the British Crime Writers’ Association for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (2009), based on a sample that would become the first novel in a series featuring eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce. As Bradley has explained, it was the character of Flavia that inspired him to embark upon the project: “I started to write The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie in the spring of 2006. Flavia walked into another novel I was writing as an incidental character, and she hijacked the book. Although I didn’t finish that book, Flavia stuck with me.” The Dagger award brought international attention to Bradley’s fiction debut, and Sweetness and the additional novels planned for the series will be published in twenty-eight languages and in more than thirty countries.
Alan Bradley lives in Malta with his wife Shirley and two calculating cats. He is currently working on the third novel starring Flavia de Luce, A Red Herring Without Mustard.

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Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag (Flavia de Luce Series #2) 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 170 reviews.
TWTaz More than 1 year ago
While I did enjoy the second installment in the Flavia series, I have to say I was a little disappointed after the pace of the first book. For me, the action moved a little too slowly with the murder not occurring until almost half way through the book. But once Flavia's sleuthing skills kicked in, things picked up. All in all, it was a commendable second book in the series and I look forward to the next Flavia adventure. This is a gem of a character that puts a smile on my face!
llewellynVA More than 1 year ago
Sometimes it pays to take the road less traveled. My list of last read books includes double intrigue spy and counter spy thrillers, tales of a Louisiana detective, the fall of the Roman Republic, life of Julius Caesar, Siege of Malta and a book about an eleven year old chemist whose hobby is poisons. I can begin a conversation about any of the above less the young chemist. What I can say is the English language, wry similes and memorable characters abound is this book. Alan Bradley's writing is a bargain at whatever you pay for his books. It is a fair bet you will search out and purchase all of the Flavia stories and you will be like me, not quite sure how to describe the pleasure each brings.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed the first book very very much, and I eagerly waited for this second book to come out. I must say, I am very disappointed, because there is no point to the story, the story line is chopped up and all over the place, and Ms. Flavia is so much less witty, wicked and interesting in this second book. I don't think I'll be recommending this book to anyone at all.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Better than the first! Flavia is just as charming as in Sweetness, and I found the story line more compelling in this second. Can't wait to read the next one! Alan Bradley is such a gifted writer who has created an unusual character. There are times when she seems too "wise beyond her years" and the narration sounds too much like an adult, but overall, I love the characters and what Bradley does with them. Very enjoyable read!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This series of books by Alan Bradley are very well written and so cute! The heroine is an 11 year old girl who likes to dabble in her late great uncle's chemistry lab. She seems to fall into sleuthing the problems in her village. Very mid-1900s British background, just wholesome and fun and done quite well!
PricelessReads More than 1 year ago
Just like the first book in this series, Flavia de Luce embarks on an adventure to solve a mystery. Everything about her delights me. I think it has to do with her being a little sneaky while still maintaining her goody-girl image. The mystery in this story unfolds at a good pace, keeping you interested till the end.
Carstairs38 More than 1 year ago
The First Half Strings Us along a Bit Too Much If you haven’t meant Flavia, she is an 11-year-old living in the small town of Bishop’s Lacey in England in 1950. Oh, and she has a fascination with chemistry, poison, and death. These were only heightened by a murder she found herself involved in and solving just a couple of weeks before this book opens. That opening finds Flavia sitting in the cemetery. Her thoughts are interrupted by a woman crying. The woman is Nialla, the assistant to famous puppeteer Rupert Porson. They are on a nationwide tour performing his amazing version of Jack and the Beanstalk, but their van has broken down. While they await the repairs, and to earn some money to pay for those repairs, they agree to do two performances in the village, and Flavia finds herself helping them set up. However, before the performances are over, someone is dead. Flavia and her family witness the deed, and Flavia immediately begins to investigate. Will she once again find the killer? As I hinted at earlier, that murder doesn’t take place until almost the half-way point. Yes, some of what happens before that is important to the solution of the case, however, the tension just isn’t there. It’s more a series of events that we just don’t care about for far too long, and I was a little bored at times. Honestly, some of these revelations could have been worked into the story after the murder takes place so we care about what we are learning. It would have made the book stronger. Once that second half hits, the pace definitely does pick up, and I began to enjoy it much more. The climax is not as suspenseful as the first book, but it is gripping in other ways and very well done. The characters are still absolutely wonderful. Well, Flavia’s older sisters are truly horrible to her, but then again, Flavia isn’t a saint to them by any means either. We meet quite a few new characters in this book, and they all come across as real. These characters are the true strength of the book. Flavia is not your typical 11-year-old, and her observations, especially in the first person narration, are often funny. This isn’t a humorous novel overall, but you will find lines that will make you smile if not laugh. And yes, I do intend to continue the series. While this book could have been paced better, I’m still curious what happens next to Flavia.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
hanro More than 1 year ago
Flavia's adventures and investigations continue. Between her chemistry experiments, as Flavia plots revenge on her sisters, she uncovers some village secrets and solves 2 murders. There are some touches of humor, but the tone here is more melancholy and introspective. Yaroo!
InTheBookcase More than 1 year ago
A great sequel to "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie". 11-year-old Flavia de Luce returns in this series for adults, as a unique child with a bit of a mad scientist streak. Death strikes again in Bishop's Lacy, England, and Flavia is on the case. Rupert Porson, a traveling puppeteer, dies on stage in front of the whole town. Flavia is shocked, saddened and fascinated with the whole scene as it unfolded onstage.  Off to the laboratory for a chemical examination! Note: The storyline hints that Rupert was not always the charming entertainer that he seemed to be in public, but that was rather involved with women. Although the book is captivating, it's also not very moral. Even Flavia's cunning deeds show that she has rather evil intentions sometimes --- although still quite laughable.
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MsTeriousDM More than 1 year ago
Brilliant, cheeky, and adorable all at once, Flavia once again gets the job done almost before the local inspector gets a chance to start. Not his fault though. The bored 11-yr-old scamp can slip freely into places the police cannot and bluntly ask questions an adult wouldn't dare. I went through this one like a newly sharpened pen knife through a cucumber.
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This is one of the best series of books I've read in a long while. Flavia de Luce is such a remarkable little girl, and I love seeing the world from her viewpoint.
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A very enjoyable series.  Flavia's personality is captivating.  From the beginning you are drawn into the story and hooked!