About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag by Alan Bradley – Flavia de Luce returns in the second of the series. Lying atop a tomb in the cemetery of St. Tancred’s church she contemplates what her family will think of her when she is dead (her preferred epitaph - A Maid whom there were none to praise / And very few to love). With her extraordinary hearing she hears a young woman intensely crying in another part of the churchyard.

Upon rising from the tomb she encounters Nialla, the assistant to Rupert Porson, the famed puppeteer whose Porson’s Puppets are the stars of BBC television on The Magic Kingdom. Well known to children throughout the land they still need to travel around England putting on local shows.

They have become stranded at Bishop’s Lacey as their aging Austin Eight van has broken down and they have no money for repairs.

Vicar Denwyn Richardson gallantly offers the church hall for a pair of performances that will get them the money needed for repairs and fill in the time until the local mechanic is back in the village.

Rupert has a well-developed upper torso but a crippled leg. He is also talented in designing and making his marionettes.

While chemistry is her passion Flavia’s curiosity is unbounded. She is enchanted by the puppets and the stage Rupert has built for shows.

Rupert and Nialla are given space at Culverhouse farm near the village to set up their tent during their stay at Bishop’s Lacey.

The farm is owned by Gordon and Grace Ingleby. Their lives were devastated 5 years earlier when their 5 year old son, Robin, died. He was found dead hanging from the decaying gallows used in generations past for hanging criminals. Grace Ingleby has never been able to adjust to the loss.

As Flavia makes her rounds on her bike, Gladys, she realizes that Rupert has some form of previous connection with the Ingleby family.

Never content to just observe Flavia wonders about Nialla’s outburst. She analyzes a discarded handkerchief used by Nialla and determines that Nialla is pregnant.

At the hall the stage has been erected and the first performance focused on the children of the village is a great success. Rupert is a master puppeteer.

The show is the classic Jack and the Beanstalk. The climax of the show sees the upper body of the giant crash upon the stage to great effect.

I do not know enough young children in 2016 to know if puppets are still as popular as they were 65 years ago. In 1950 television is in its infancy. (During the book the de Luces acquire their first television set.)

The evening performance sees many adults joining the children but it has a different dramatic conclusion. Rupert crashes on to the stage. He is dead.

Even in the chaos of the moment Flavia’s keen powers of observation and concentration let her see the evidence that allows her to determine the cause of death.

Inspector Hewitt is already at the performance so the investigation is begun within moments. Was it an accident or murder? Flavia knows.

Flavia continually draws upon her knowledge of chemistry as she investigates.

Flavia’s formidable Aunt Felicity visits the family. Her personality commands the house. An act of unexpected kindness by her towards Flavia relieves Flavia’s nagging unease over her relationship with her mother before her mother died.

Flavia has a growing relationship with the troubled Dogger. PTSD from World War II has left him a battered man but he has a keen intelligence that Flavia draws upon in her investigation.

Within the De Luce family a day of reckoning is at hand. Flavia’s father, drifting through life and absorbed by his stamp collection, has left the family on the verge of financial ruin. Fortunately, I have the third in the series, A Red Herring Without Mustard, to read shortly.

Early in the story I was not really caught up in the plot but it got better and better. I thought the ending moving and tragic.
Bradley, Alan - (2015) - The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and A Postage Stamp Provides the Motive


  1. That's thing about this series, Bill, in my opinion. Admittedly, it doesn't work for everyone. But I've found that it is much more affecting than I thought it would be. It's really got several layers to it. I'm glad you enjoyed this one.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. As I read the books I see Flavia developing as a character. The family relationships are becoming more complex.

  2. This is one of the best in this series as far as a cleverly plotted mystery in concerned. Interesting that it comes so early too. Later books are not as good as mysteries IMO and spend more time with the development of the deLuce family dynamics and Flavia's antics at the expense of a well told, focused mystery. Dogger is my favorite among the series characters.

    Puppets are still popular. I was surprised when I was a puppeteer back in the late 1990s how captivated young audiences can be. The youngest (usually no older than 10 years) can easily be prompted to interact with puppets too. You may find it hard to believe but puppetry arts have continued to grow in popularity - especially with adults. Adult puppet companies and festivals are flourishing in theater throughout North American and Europe. You ought to know that there are several very good puppet companies in Canada: Old Trout in Calgary, Le Theatre de Deux Mains in Montreal and the inventive children's puppet company Mermaid Theater in Nova Scotia.

    1. John: Thanks for your comment. Your remarks are direct and candid as always.

      Thank you for the information on puppets. I had not recalled your puppeteer career. I am glad to hear kids still love puppets and the growth of the puppetry arts.