CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 23 . . . . February 17, 2012
After further deliberation, Flavia de Luce decides that Father Christmas (i.e. Santa Claus) must exist, because no one else in the household could qualify as “the Bringer of Gifts”. Having cooked up a batch of birdlime in her home laboratory, Flavia believes that Father Christmas will be found stuck to a chimney pot on Buckshaw’s roof on Christmas Day, until she sets him free. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, the fourth novel in Alan Bradley’s “Flavia de Luce” series begins in the week before Christmas in post-war Britain. The household – Ophelia, Daphne, (Flavia’s two older sisters), Colonel de Luce, Dogger (the family ‘s faithful factotum), and Mrs. Mullet (housekeeper and the creator of culinary monstrosities) - is awaiting the “intrusion” which will provide the family with enough cash to stay in the house until the following year. Ilium Films has selected their family manor (Buckshaw) as the scene for the shooting of a movie, “one of those blasted country house things” popular in the British cinema of the late 1940’s. In return for their inconvenience, the de Luce family will receive a generous remuneration.
Daffy and Feely are hugely impressed when they learn that the star of the film is Phyllis Wyvern, “the biggest film star in the world, . . . in the galaxy, . . . in the universe.” Phyllis has all the airs and glamour of movie queens of that era, and when she arrives at Buckshaw with her entourage, even Flavia (possessor of a razor-sharp, skeptical, and inquiring scientific mind) is captivated by the star’s undeniable magnetism. But, this is a Flavia de Luce mystery, and it’s not too long before things start to go awry. First, there’s an accident which sidelines Patrick McNulty, manager of Transport for Ilium Films. Then, Vicar Richardson convinces Miss Wyvern to be the starring attraction in an evening of scenes from Romeo and Juliet, to be held at Buckshaw, as a fund-raiser for St. Tancred’s parish. Readers of The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag will remember that the last St. Tancred’s fund-raiser was “something of a bust. . . .”, a puppet show which “had been brought to an abrupt end by tragedy and a woman scorned.” This performance of Romeo and Juliet has an unexpected interruption: when Juliet (Phyllis Wyvern) appears during the balcony scene, a stage hand misses a lighting cue. The show stops as Wyvern climbs down from the “balcony” and slaps him. Much later that evening, in hopes of incurring her sister’s extreme envy, Flavia decides to visit the film star for a late-night chat. She finds Phyllis Wyvern dead.
Joanne Peters, a retired high school teacher-librarian, lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.