Friday, February 5, 2016

Book Review: I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley (Flavia de Luce #4)

Stars: 3 out of 5
Pros: Charming characters, Christmas atmosphere
Cons: Plot drags for first half.
The Bottom Line:
Film crew in mansion
Too much set up slows down this
Murder at Christmas

Film Crew at Christmas Means Murder

Had I realized that the fourth Flavia de Luce novel was set around Christmas, I would have crammed it into last year in an effort to listen to it at Christmas time.  The next best thing was to listen to I Am Half-Sick of Shadows in January while Christmas was still fresh in my mind.

If you have yet to meet Flavia, she is an eleven-year-old sleuth who lives in a small British village in 1950.  Oh, and she is obsessed with chemistry, most specifically poison.  Her fascination with death and murder has gotten her involved in several mysteries already, and she has done a good job of piecing things together.  And yes, despite the main character’s age, the series is aimed at adults and not middle grade readers.

As this book opens, it is the week before Christmas, and a film crew is arriving at Buckshaw, the de Luce family mansion.  They are going to be filming a movie starring Phyllis Wyvern, a huge movie star.  Flavia’s father has done this in order to bring in much needed money to pay off the taxes owed on the estate.  Unfortunately, this does mean a quieter Christmas this year since any decorations would get in the way of the filming of the movie.  Still, Flavia has one thing on her mind, the sticky substance she’s been brewing in her laboratory in order to catch Father Christmas on their roof and prove once and for all if he exists or not.

As time marches toward Christmas, the snow begins to fall, but that doesn’t keep much of the village from coming to Buckshaw for a performance put on by Phyllis to raise money for the parish roof.  Unfortunately, the storm is bad enough that it traps everyone in the mansion, and that night someone is murdered.  With all the suspects in her own home, can Flavia figure out who the killer is?

With this being winter, certain elements of the series like Flavia riding her trusty bike, Gladys, all over the countryside aren’t to be found.  Instead, the residents of the village come to her for their cameo appearances.  Speaking of cameos, we also see a friendly face from the second book again, something I loved.

Unfortunately, the mystery was very slow to get started.  We’re almost half way through the book before the murder takes places, and only some of the story time before that was truly setting up suspects.  Yes, the book is filled with Flavia’s ramblings, asides, and rabbit trails.  They are charming at times, but only when commenting on the action of the mystery.  Early in the book, everything was just too slow.

Once the murder takes place, the action does pick up considerably.  There are some good twists and revelations on the way to the end.  The fact that we are snowed in to the family mansion for much of the book never seems to be an issue.  Flavia has access to all the suspects and clues she needs, and I never started to feel claustrophobic at being in one place so long.

In the last book, Flavia was annoying me, mainly because she was acting her age.  I’m glad to say that she was much better behaved in this book.  Yes, she still acted her age, but it wasn’t nearly as annoying.  We came close to getting some much needed character development for her two older sisters, and I hope that comes in the next book.  I’m ready for their relationship to evolve.  The rest of the cast continued to be strong no matter how big or small their part was in the overall book.

While the Christmas atmosphere isn’t on every page, I did enjoy it when it came into play in the story.  There is plenty of it to make reading this book in December an added joy.  I just didn’t want to wait that long since I had just missed Christmas.

What I find interesting is how the author keeps working the time period into these books.  Flavia may live in a small village, but the two wars that had been fought recently continue to influence her world.  Being eleven, she probably doesn’t completely understand everything that had happened, but it is interesting to the adult audience of the books.

Once again, I listened to the audio book, and once again Jayne Entwistle. provided wonderful narration.  She brings Flavia, our first person narrator, to perfect life, and at times I can’t help but laugh at the enthusiasm she breathes into the words.  She’s just as talented as bringing the rest of the cast to life without getting in the way of the story she is reading.

Which is why I wish the plotting were stronger in the series.  The characters are charming and the setting is wonderful, but the slow plot keeps me from completely recommending I Am Half-Sick of Shadows.

For more visits with Flavia, check out the rest of the Flavia de Luce mysteries in order.


  1. I've really enjoyed this series, but I have not gotten to this book yet. Do you think I should wait until next December?

    1. If you enjoy reading Christmas books in December, it might be worth it. However, that's a long time to wait if you want to move on with the series. It would be fun, but it's not necessary.

  2. This is a series I have had wishlisted for sooooo long. I feel like a bad bookworm. :-)