Sunday, 15 April 2012

The Uninvited Guests

In a large though crumbling country house the Torringtons prepare for the twentieth birthday of their eldest daughter Emerald, while their youngest daughter, mostly known as Smudge, prepares her own Great Undertaking. But during the preparations a train derails and the family are entreated to look after the survivors. 
I'm tiptoeing around spoilers here, even though the marketing for this book left great muddy footprints all over the cover. I can't really complain too loudly though as I probably wouldn't have even read the book if they hadn't been so indiscreet. The likes of Oscar Wilde and E.M.Forster are the the sorts of literary heritage this aspires to live up too. It's not quite consistent enough to pull it off completely and it suffers from having to hit its targets so far removed from the period of history it satires. It achieves on other levels though. It's engagingly written with many little impressionistic flourishes, entertaining throughout and did manage to put this reader on edge at times. It gave me pause to wonder that faced with a kitten neglected in a box (a present for Emerald) at the same time that the wretched train wreck survivors are similarly neglected, starving and cold in their own little box (the morning room), that the only forceful thought in my mind was: "Let the damn kitten out of the box!!!".

Monday, 2 April 2012

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows

The de Luce family have suspended their usual Christmas preparations in order to try to generate some much needed cash, hiring out Buckshaw to a film company. Usually Christmas is the one time of the year that the warring sisters declare a temporary truce for the celebrations but that seems unlikely amongst the uproar of visiting film royalty. It's not long before things start going wrong and most of the population of Bishop's Lacy is camped out in the halls, pretty much snowed in and trapped with a killer at large amongst them. Much as Flavia de Luce loves a good murder to keep her 12 year old deductive skills finely honed, even she has to admit that juggling vital scientific experiments (proving the existence of Father Christmas) at the same time as digging into family history, while making sure the local police are suitably impressed with her cleverness and creating the firework display to end all firework displays, might be a little too much for even her array of skills.
This one is possibly as good as the series debut. Flavia and co just dance off the pages which seem to evaporate under your fingers and into your brain. If you can get it into your reading schedule over the Christmas period then all much the better. Flavia is as fascinating and captivating as ever, straddling the line of cleverness and hopeless naivety and brought to life by Alan Bradley with lots of wit, cheekiness and flashes of surprising depth of feeling. Whether you buy into his somewhat Ealingesque image of 1950s rural England doesn't really matter - it's just too much fun to give a damn.