Flavia de Luce, Alan Bradley's wonderful eleven-year-old detective, is back again in a fourth installment of her adventures. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows may be my favorite so far. It is well-plotted, the characters are wonderfully drawn, and the action moves along at a snappy pace. It proved to be a fast read, too fast in fact. I didn't want it to end so soon.
Flavia and her two older sisters and sworn enemies live with their father, the Colonel, in a rambling wreck of an estate in rural England. They live in genteel poverty along with the wonderful Dogger, the Colonel's old war buddy and now jack-of-all-trades around the estate, and the cook whose cooking Flavia despises. The Colonel always struggles to keep the wolf from the door and his latest scheme for doing so is to lease the estate to a cinema company for the purpose of making a movie with the international movie star, Phyllis Wyvern. The company arrives just before Christmas and begins to set up to film the movie.
The local vicar, seeing a chance to make money for repairs to the church, approaches Phyllis about putting on a performance of a scene from Romeo and Juliet for the locals. She agrees to do so and on the appointed night, the whole village turns up at the estate to watch. Unfortunately, while the performance is taking place, a blizzard blows in and makes it impossible for the villagers to get back to town. Even more unfortunately, during the night, while everyone is stuck there, someone murders Phyllis Wyvern.
The body is discovered by Flavia who immediately goes into her detective mode, meanwhile planning a scientific experiment that will prove once and for all the existence or non-existence of St. Nicholas and a Christmas fireworks show that will be the talk of the county for years to come. Yes, Flavia has her hands full, but as usual, she is up to the task!
This was a wonderfully entertaining book to read. Flavia is a very empathetic and believable character. One even believes in her extreme precociousness, and one feels her pain in the death of her mother before she could ever know her and in the hostility she feels from her sisters. And yet, when Flavia is threatened, we find that maybe those sisters aren't really so hostile after all.
Highly recommended reading for all lovers of cozy mysteries. For those of us who enjoy such reading, this book is like catnip to a cat!