Sunday, September 1, 2013

I Am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia De Luce, #4)I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Format: Audio (CDs from Library)
Narrated By: Jayne Entwistle
Original Publication Year: 2011
Genre(s): Mystery, Historical
Series: Flavia DeLuce # 4
Awards: None

Christmas comes to Buckshaw and Flavia, as usual, is determined to celebrate it with a bang (homemade fireworks) and some bird lime on the roof to catch Old St. Nick. And also as usual she ends up interfering in a police investigation and almost gets herself killed while no one bothers to chastise her or seemingly care.

Along with Christmas, a movie production, crew and cast, have taken over Buckshaw including the very famous actress Phyllis Wyvern. There is a LOT of filler in this book and it takes almost half the book for the real action to get rolling. This is like one of those “flashback” episodes in a season of television that is meant to catch up new viewers and give the actors a week off. Almost every character and happening in the previous books is recapped. But eventually a dead body is found by Flavia, of course, and it is when the house is particularly full because half of the village of Bishop's Lacey is stranded at Buckshaw during a massive blizzard. There are suspects galore and much squirelly behavior to dissect which Flavia does with glee.

And immunity. This book was particularly egregious for letting Flavia get away with some things that really make me gnash my teeth. She interferes with and removes things from crime scenes and then goggles at the incompetence of the police and preens herself waiting for their praise. She is nearly killed at the end of the book and she gets not a single word of chastisement at the end. Not a single adult resolves to keep a better eye on her. It’s a problem I’ve had with the other books as well and I KNOW it’s a convention of this series so I should just get over it but I really wanted to, in particular, slap her father around a bit. There are, as usual, developments that lead toward explaining the nature of Flavia’s family but the frustration I feel at her families unconcern and their general dysfunction does cut into my enjoyment of the books.

I want to give the book two stars for the amount of filler and the loose ends untied (i.e. why does Phyllis Wyvern treat her maid the way she does?) and the fact that none of Flavia’s elders seem the least bit concerned for her. I’m giving it three though because the fact is, despite all its flaws, I still enjoyed it. Flavia is a unique, sometimes annoying, but always fascinating character to spend time with and Bradley’s writing style and his ability to turn a phrase are just impossible to resist. I do also like how he is VERY slowly spooling out little pieces to Flavia’s own personal puzzle which has shaped her family into the dysfunctional unit it is.

I’ve listened rather than read almost all of the Flavia DeLuce books and I have to say the hiring of Jayne Entwistle is one of those happy unions - She IS Flavia. She sounds believably 11 and her reading, (the inflections, the emphasis) of Flavia’s lines are perfect. She really brings Flavia to life.

In reading some other people's reviews there was a lot of griping about the lack of character growth across the books and the fact that they all happen within a 4-6 month time span.  This hasn't per se bothered me but as I read people's wishes that the books were more spread out and we actually saw Flavia as she grew up, I found myself agreeing that it would have been a pretty interesting approach.  What do you think?  Is it good the books focus on an eternal 11 year old?  Would the the books retain their charm with a 16 or 17 year old Flavia?

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