Many children wonder if Father Christmas (Santa Claus) is real or imaginary, but only Flavia de Luce wants to solve this by setting a trap for him with a concoction she created in her laboratory. Flavia is eleven. Oh, and she solves crimes.
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
by Alan Bradley
read by Jayne Entwistle
Random House Audio / Delacorte Press
It’s Christmastime at Buckshaw, the family estate, in Bishop’s Lacy, set just after World War 2, and things are getting complicated. A film crew with legendary movie star Phyllis Wyvern set up to film a movie in the spacious (and moody) estate and the on-screen drama isn’t even half the drama that the troupe bring to Buckshaw and the de Luce’s. Things get much more interesting when the famous film actress agrees to put on a charity production of a scene from Romeo and Juliet and half the town shows up only to get stuck at the estate because of a massive snow storm. And then Phyllis Wyvern is strangled to death on Christmas Eve and Flavia decides she is going to solve the murder.
I say that as a throw away because that’s how this story goes. This is a story about a chemistry-loving eleven year old sleuth who solves cases, but more than that it really is a story about family. The murder is almost exactly half way into the quick novel and finding the murderer(s) takes a back seat to watching this delightful young girl flit from character to character building a world for the reader that is at once quaint and also imminent. As much as I wanted the story to move faster, I found that I just couldn’t stay upset with Flavia and her charming world.
Flavia’s newest adventure is an example of a great Christmas novel – set at Christmas but not overbearingly Christmassy. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is decidedly and unashamedly PG and is safe enough for the whole family to read and witty enough for the more mature reader to enjoy.
If you’re looking for a murder-mystery then you may be slightly dissatisfied, but if you’re looking for a great book for the whole family that engages the readers, matter-of-factly praises science and learning, and has a knack for whimsy then look no further.
A note about the reader, Jane Entwistle: From page (or CD as the case may be) one, Entwistle embodies Flavia with curiosity, charm and cleverness. You can hear the smile in her voice as she reads Flavia to us! While I worried at first that it would grate, I found that it was refreshing and appropriate. Other characters have their own voices and it was very easy to follow who was who simply on tone. Males sounded male, females sounded female. She contributed just enough personality to bring Flavia to life and not a bit more that may hinder an enjoyable story. Very well done.
The book and the audio book are both highly recommended.
Scott Asher is the founder and administrator of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on Christianity, Zombies, and anything else he wants to.
This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.