I Am Half-Sick Of Shadows by Alan Bradley – Review

I Am Half Sick of Shadows BIG

Book Jacket:

It’s Christmastime, and the precocious Flavia de Luce – an eleven-year-old sleuth with a passion for chemistry and a penchant for crime-solving – is tucked away in her laboratory, whipping up a concoction to ensnare Saint Nick. But she is soon distracted when a film crew arrives at Buckshaw, the de Luces’ decaying English estate, to shoot a movie starring the famed Phyllis Wyvern. Amid a raging blizzard, the entire village of Bishop’s Lacey gathers at Buckshaw to watch Wyvern perform, yet nobody is prepared for the evening’s shocking conclusion: a body found, past midnight, strangled to death with a length of film. But who among the assembled guests would stage such a chilling scene? As the storm worsens and the list of suspects grows, Flavia must use every ounce of sly wit at her disposal to ferret out a killer hidden in plain sight

You can read an excerpt here.


While I did enjoy reading this book, I have to say I thought the mystery was rather tepid.

But first off, as I’ve said before, I’ll say again: Flavia is quite a character, and spending time with her is always a hoot. And witnessing Christmastime at Buckshaw – the ageing de Luce estate and front line of the long standing battle between Flavia and her older sisters – alone was enough to make this a fun read. And as for the mystery, the set-up was marvelous – a classic Christie-style locked room/remote estate mystery, as Buckshaw is promptly invaded by a film crew and soon thereafter the entire town, who are all then snowed in over Christmas – and all in all I was just having a grande old time watching village politics collide with the lights, cameras and action of a film crew, two insular communities going toe-to-toe. So the stage was set, the curtain drawn – the snow-filled air thick with secrets for Flavia to winnow out – and then, well, frankly the show never really seemed to start.

And therein lies my problem with this book: as much fun as I was having watching the characters play off each other – and as I said, that alone is reason enough to have a good time reading this book – it took a very, very, long time for the first body to hit the floor, and by long I mean half the novel. And when you have no murder to solve, well, it kind of takes the edge off of the proceedings. Worse, with such a long-winded set up, frankly I was expecting a huge pay-off when the body finally did arrive – a real humdinger of a mystery to reward my patience – but it just never appeared. The mystery turned out to be rather painfully straightforward – simple, even – and all in all it left me feeling a bit disappointed by the whole affair, much as I was enjoying the characters.

So as entertaining as it was to watch Flavia rattle around, virtually drunk on Christmas spirit, it just wasn’t enough to make this book entirely satisfying – and frankly, I expect more from Alan Bradley than this. Weirdly, in the end I found myself wondering if this story was originally intended to be a novella – and I know the turn-around on this one was insanely fast, so I also wonder if a bit too much of this story got lost in the rush – because all in all the plotting just wasn’t up to snuff. And yet weirdly, this book’s greatest problem is also its greatest strength, in that spending so much time with its characters at the plot’s expense gives us a veritable feast of quality de Luce family time to enjoy, which is a particular treat for any long-standing Flavia fan. But sadly, it just wasn’t enough to carry this entire book.

Byrt Grade: B+

 As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Kirkus Reviews says:

The plot’s murderous aspects are on the skimpy side. But who can complain when that serial charmer Flavia (A Red Herring Without Mustard, 2011, etc.) is on hand, wreathed in Tennyson and Shakespeare?

National Post says:

Certainly Flavia can solve a murder, but matters of love and relationships continue to puzzle her and engage us, giving Bradley’s novels a much more emotional edge than your average drawing room mystery.