Book name: I am Half Sick of Shadows
Author: Alan Bradley
Format: ebook, print, audiobook
Genre: Murder mystery
Publication Date: 2011
Star Rating: 4/5
Alan Bradley is an established voice on the modern murder mystery scene, though his popular Flavia de Luce books are set in the post-World War Two period.
His first novel won the CWA Debut Dagger Award way back in 2007 and since then he’s gone from strength to strength.
I am Half Sick of Shadows is the fourth Flavia de Luce murder mystery.
Notwithstanding her track record in solving murders, Flavia is only eleven years old. Her age is something that is occasionally masked by her confidence and self-deprecating humour.
Flavia lives with her two elder sisters and widowed father Haviland de Luce at Buckshaw, a country house close to London. Money’s tight so the de Luces rent out their home as a film location.
Film star Phyllis Wyvern and her regular director Val Lampman arrive in a flurry of glamour amid heavy pre-Christmas snowfall. Everyone is swept up in Phyllis’s charm, including the usually cynical Flavia.
A charity performance of Romeo and Juliet at Buckshaw helps to raise money for the church roof, but also leads to everyone from the village becoming snowed in overnight.
The performance also flushes out, as does the run up to the event, the longstanding relationships between the crew and actors in the film company.
There are plenty of simmering feuds to provide suspects when the murder takes place.
Phyllis is murdered by strangulation using film from a projector when she’s indulging herself by watching her old films late into the night. This struck me as particularly cruel and ironic.
The murder brings Flavia’s old adversary Inspector Hewitt and his men to Bucklands.
I am Half Sick of Shadows draws upon the longstanding tradition of cosy murder mysteries by setting the narrative at a country house with an established group of suspects who all knew the victim very well.
However, the book takes this foundation and develops it to keep the concept fresh. Flavia, the amateur detective who will frustrate and challenge the police, is at home. Everyone else is a visitor, including the whole film crew and cast.
Far from being an outsider who happens to be visiting or is brought in afterwards to solve the crime, as many amateur detectives are in murder mysteries, Flavia has more right than anyone to be at Bucklands.
I am Half Sick of Shadows is also fresh and inventive through its use of a very young detective.
Flavia is fascinated by chemistry and is already honing her extensive knowledge of poisons. Her expertise is unsurprising given that young people frequently understand highly technical matters without difficulty.
Above all, Flavia’s age means that she is constantly under estimated. Loyal fans of murder mysteries will know that the police under estimate amateur sleuths at their peril. Many inspectors disregard Jane Marple as a doddery old man, and just think about how wrong they all prove to be…
By setting I am Half Sick of Shadows within the amateur sleuth’s own home, Alan Bradley creates a setting where Flavia has absolute access to any part of Bucklands she needs to solve the crime.
She also has eleven years of poking into every nook and cranny to bring to bear when wondering how Phyllis Wyvern could have been murdered.
I loved I am Half Sick of Shadows for its deadpan humour and its accurate portrayal of the casual chaos of country life, and for its plucky and ironic young heroine.
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