The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag by Alan BradleyThe Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag by Alan Bradley

The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag

byAlan Bradley

Paperback | November 2, 2010

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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 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.

From the Hardcover edition.
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 Univer...
Title:The Weed That Strings The Hangman's BagFormat:PaperbackDimensions:368 pages, 7.99 × 5.16 × 0.95 inPublished:November 2, 2010Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385665857

ISBN - 13:9780385665858


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Flavia does it again I love this character. What a feisty young girl, totally self-confident and unafraid to take charge in her life. Somewhat neglected by her grief-stricken father and older sisters, she uses her chemistry set, her bicycle and her overactive brain to solve mysteries. I treasure this little 11-year-old.
Date published: 2018-05-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Oh Flavia! Another Flavia de Luce novel. I love this little 11 year old!! She is the best of adult and child sleuth rolled into one! I'm a fan for sure!!
Date published: 2018-03-19
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great! Nice instalment in a smart and funny series.
Date published: 2018-01-02
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Pretty good! It got boring at times but the plot twists and old-fashioned mystery style kept me intrigued.
Date published: 2017-07-26
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really enjoyed this! Whether it was because I had become more endeared to the characters or I liked the storyline better, I enjoyed the second in this series more than than first. I recommend the first, but I really enjoyed book number two!
Date published: 2017-03-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Definitely stronger than the first While retaining all the quirk and charm of the first book, the mystery of this one was stronger and more clever while the book continued to develop the fabulous characters introduced previously.
Date published: 2017-01-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Another good one Flavia de Luce is once again fun to follow along her adventures.
Date published: 2016-12-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I love Flavia! The second in the series was not a let down. I am always weary of sequels but the new characters introduced were quite eccentric, and the old proved just as hilarious.This was a very interesting read, and an excellent mystery....quite spooky really. I am looking forward to the third instalment.
Date published: 2012-11-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Better than Sweetness The second in the mystery series that follows eleven year old Flavia de Luce on her adventures. I found this one more compelling and therefore more enjoyable than The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Everything is a bit more familiar and the mystery itself is a bit spookier. I especially enjoyed Flavia's interactions with Dogger and with her sisters. Found the use of the word "weed" in the title rather amusing. Not going to win any big prizes, but it's a delight to read!
Date published: 2012-06-08
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A LITTLE ANNOYING Flavia De Luce is an 11-year-old amateur detective and almost too bright for her small town surroundings. Being a budding chemist and quite knowledgeable about many things could be boring in Bishop’s Lacey if you didn’t have a murder to investigate. This book moved along quite well and it was a good little mystery, but I found Flavia a little too difficult to take. Instead of finding her charmingly precocious, I found her quite annoying. Enough so, that I wouldn’t pick up another in the series.
Date published: 2010-08-20
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Puppetry and Death Reason for Reading: Next in the series. Flavia's second case follows the traditional set up of the golden-age of classic British mysteries. A travelling puppet show comes to town, but not just anyone; this is Ruper Porson famous for his television puppet show. He agrees to put a show on for the village. At this point the reader is completely immersed in the story, introduced to all the characters, in the village, and the newcomers, along with bits and pieces of backstories but never enough to let us know who is going to commit a murder. And a murder there will be, just like the classic Agatha Christie we know this is all building up to the right moment and we've figured out who will get murdered and probably when but not how. Once the murder has been committed the rest of the book follows through keeping the pacing and formatting similar to the classic British mystery. Of course there are a few modern twists, our protagonist is an 11-year old girl, who is fascinated with poisons and completely knowledgeable in chemistry and herbs to be able to make an unlimited amount of poisons and their remedies. Flavia is a very interesting character. She is bright and knows it but is never smarmy or ignorant to adults. She knows when to use the child side of her to get more answers for certain witnesses. Flavia starts out by totally expecting the police to take her on as a deductive member of the team from her experiences showing them her skills last time but when she is questioned and then sent along she is feels indignant that they would dismiss her so easily. So Flavia takes on the case by herself, sneaking around, traveling by bicycle (just like the old-time female British sleuths!) and getting interviews that the police couldn't possibly succeed in as well as she, beloved child and fellow villager, is able. The author seems to have a good hold on her character by this point, as she is now entirely believable as a child, which I had problems with in the first book. It is good to see the character more realistic and fleshed out. I will say though, I didn't enjoy this book as much as The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I think the original uniqueness of the situation has worn off a bit and while the book is so comparable to a typical Agatha Christie or Ngaio Marsh, I do prefer my mysteries nowadays to start right off the bat with the murder. O course that's just me. Flavia de Luce is going to be a winner with all lovers of British cozies, one you'll surely not want to miss.
Date published: 2010-05-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from I absolutely adore Flavia! Oh I've been waiting and waiting for The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag! I fell in love with Alan Bradley's writing and his precocious protagonist - Flavia de Luce - in the first book in this series - The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. (you can read my rave review from last year) It is 1950 and eleven year old Flavia is passing the morning. pretending to be dead in the churchyard in the small English village of Bishop's Lacey. Her reverie is interrupted by someone's crying. Flavia of course, is not one to let anything that captures her interest go uninvestigated. She finds that the caravan belonging to Porson's Puppets has broken down. While waiting for the van to be fixed, Rupert Porson agrees to put on a puppet show for the village. The show takes an unexpected turn when Rupert is killed. Accident or murder? Well, this is right up Flavia's alley. Having solved a murder just last year, she is quite happy to assist Inspector Hewitt with the investigation. Inspector Hewitt isn't quite as thrilled. "There, like a doll in a box, lay Rupert. Was I frightened out of my wits? I'm afraid not. Since the day I had found a body in the kitchen garden at Buckshaw, I had developed a fascination with death, with a particular emphasis on the chemistry of putrefaction." Flavia is uncannily clever - indeed, her hobby is working in the old chemistry lab in the rambling mansion she shares with her absent minded father and two sisters. Her speciality is poisons. The 'war' between the sisters is always entertaining. The mystery is quite interesting and well plotted, but it is the character developments that are the stars of this book. Every quirky village character is well drawn and I immediately established a picture of them as I read. But for me, it is Flavia that makes this series such a hit. Her curiosity, her keen observations, her disarming view of life utterly enchant me. "Hullo! I shouted. It's always best to announce one's self heartily when trespassing. (Even though I had invented it on the spot, this seemed to be a good general rule)." Flavia's Father - "You are unreliable, Flavia, " he said. "Utterly unreliable." Flavia's response - not verbalized- " Of course I was! It was one of the things I loved most about myself." What's not to love? Flavia is a thoroughly enchanting protagonist. I've always loved mysteries, especially when I was younger. I devoured the entire Nancy Drew series and always imagined myself solving mysteries along with them. I'm older now, but having just as much fun seeing the world through Flavia's eyes and helping to solve the mystery. Flavia has a fan club - and of course I'm a member. Alan Bradley is working on the next book in The Buckshaw Chronicles titled A Red Herring Without Mustard. Sigh - it's a long time til next year....
Date published: 2010-03-09

Read from the Book

OneI 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 praiseAnd very few to love.And if they'd baulked at that, I'd have left this as my second choice:Truest hearts by deeds unkindTo 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.Nothing.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."Flavia…"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."From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. The novel opens with Flavia going over the circumstances of her own death, as she lies in the churchyard. What effect did this opening have on your reading, or your understanding of Flavia?2. In interviews, Alan Bradley has often spoken of Flavia’s idealism, and how her extensive understanding of chemistry is offset by a complete lack of understanding when it comes to family relationships. Discuss Flavia’s place within the de Luce family.3. As Flavia shows Nialla and Rupert the way to Culverhouse Farm, they run into Mad Meg, who tells them, “the Devil’s come back to Gibbet Wood” and also quotes Matthew 10:16 – “Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” What does she mean? Do you think she is trying to give Flavia a clue as to what she’s seen?4. Despite its lightness, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag is a dark novel, dealing with the death of a child and the deceptions that both preceded and followed that tragic event. How does Bradley balance the novel’s style with the subject matter?5. Aunt Felicity is domineering and awful, despite the Colonel’s claims to the contrary; Cynthia is not the bishop’s helpful wife, but an “ogress.” Where do Flavia’s dark opinions of others come from? Is she purposefully undercutting the village’s charming veneer, or does she just not trust anyone?6. Discuss the circumstances of Robin Ingleby’s death, and how Grace and Gordon Ingleby have lived for the five years since. Do you foresee an end to their grieving, once the truth comes to light?7. Does Flavia truly engage in the surrounding world, or is her connection merely one of intellectual curiosity?8. What do you make of Nialla’s reaction to Rupert’s death? Did you ever suspect her of murder? In the end, Flavia imagines her continuing on with the puppet show, out of the limelight…. Do you think she’s right?9. Why does Flavia find it fairly easy to relate to Mad Meg while others in the village do not?10. In one interview, Alan Bradley commented, “I don’t think we trust children enough any more [or] leave them alone enough… I recall being that age, and one of the greatest blessings was being left to myself. You find your own interests and amusements and pursue them — and that has a huge effect on the outcome of your life.” Are kids today given enough freedom? Or, is Flavia given too much?11. One reviewer has compared the fictional setting of Bishop’s Lacey to Agatha Christie’s St. Mary Mead and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s London. Where do you see the Flavia books sitting in terms of traditional English mysteries, or the country-manor mystery genre in particular?12. While the first two novels of the series have been enjoyed by teen readers as well, the books are written for adults. What is the appeal, for adult readers, of having a precocious eleven-year-old narrator like Flavia?13. Should Rupert’s killer be send to prison?14. These novels are so entertaining largely thanks to the originality of the supporting characters, those villagers and interlopers who unknowingly come under Flavia’s microscope with every paged turned. Who are the most interesting characters in the novel? Are there some you would like to see more of in future books?15. What do you think the future holds for Flavia de Luce?

Editorial Reviews

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 MailFrom the Hardcover edition.