I Am Half-Sick of Shadows: A Flavia de Luce Novel
by Alan Bradley
Review by Gayle Surrette
Delacorte Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780385344012
Date: 01 November 2011 List Price $23.00 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Flavia de Luce's father is renting the family home out to a film company for the holidays. The family will be limited to their bedrooms and specific areas of the house for the duration of filming. Flavia is convinced it will work out. She can work in her lab and watch the film crew, while avoiding her sisters. At least that was the plan until the murder. Once again, Flavia jumps in to conduct her own investigation -- after all the police really do need her help whether they know it or not.
Flavia de Luce, age 11 going on 60, has one passion -- chemistry. Of course, she concentrates on poisons. She finds them fascinating and never knows when an understanding of poison will come in handy when dealing with her two older sisters. Her second interest is crime as she considered herself a slightly younger Sherlock Holmes--after all he also understood chemistry.
Flavia is the narrator of I am Half-Sick of Shadows and her voice is a delight. This point of view gives the reader some interesting insight into the family, which is pretty dysfunctional in its own unique way. Flavia is actually closer to the cook/housekeeper, Mrs. Mullet, and the handyman, Dogger, than she is to her father or sisters. Dogger, while having his own post-tramatic stress problems, is an adult she looks up to and who doesn't talk down to her. Her thoughts about events as they unfold are uniquely hers, colored by her age, understanding of the material, and events. Thus, the entire mystery and the people involved are presented as characters in a play that Flavia is striving to understand and put in context.
For the adult reader, Flavia's keen observations allow for interpreting events in our own way while enjoying her interpretation of those same events. She's a pure delight; a child most would appreciate, and few could actually cope with if they lived in the same house.
It's a holiday mystery so the subtext is about families. There are the families you're born into, the families you create, and the families formed by environment (work, church, organizations, common interest). While the novel is all about the invasion of their home by the film company and the murder, followed by the police investigation, there are a lot of other plot threads involved due to the time of year, Christmas. The mystery is convoluted enough to keep the reader interested throughout. Even the small side issues and events all pull together in the end.
This is the first of this series that I've read and I enjoyed it immensely. I'll definitely keep my eye out for the next book. Luckily, you don't need to read the previous books to enjoy I am Half-Sick of Shadows.