I am Half-Sick of Shadows
by Alan Bradley
9780385344012, $23.00, Delacorte Press (Random House)
Another almost-indescribable Flavia de Luce adventure! Seriously, I'm not even worried about gushing too much, because every single novel in this series delivers. It's the best mash-up of a child protagonist's inquisitive nature, Sherlock Holmes's logic, historical literary fiction, murder mystery, and general good fun.
Continuing to explore the lives of land-rich, cash-poor, post-World War II, British countryside gentry, the Flavia de Luce novels each feature a murder mystery solved by 11-year-old Flavia herself. In this, the fourth novel in the series, Colonel de Luce has finally succumbed to mounting debts by allowing a film studio to take over Buckshaw, the de Luce estate. Movie star, Phyllis Wyvern, with complete cast and crew descend, all in the week before Christmas. In between concocting a sticky tar substance to catch St. Nicholas (just to make sure he IS real), Flavia is busy NOT getting in the way of the film company and making friends with Ms. Wyvern, much to her sister Feely's consternation.
Soon most of the village has also descended as Ms. Wyvern has agreed to give a special one-act performance of Romeo & Juliet to help raise funds for a new church roof. When a blizzard traps the town at Buckshaw, there are plenty of suspects when Flavia discovers Ms. Wyvern dead in her room during the night after her performance. Inspector Hewitt turns up, of course, and though he tries to avoid Flavia's assistance, she is, as usual, several steps ahead of him. All the favorite (and those favorite-to-hate) characters are present during this trying time, including Aunt Felicity who has more to do with this mystery than Flavia can imagine. Old war secrets, unexpected family connections, Dogger's bottomless wealth of information, and some good old-fashioned sleuthing all combine to help save the day in a truly shocking display of chemistry.
A great seasonal read for those who don't want anything too naughty OR nice.