I am half sick of shadow.., p.1

I am half-sick of shadows, page 1

 part  #4 of  Flavia de Luce Series

 

I am half-sick of shadows


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I am half-sick of shadows


  Acclaim for Alan Bradley and the Flavia de Luce novels

  A RED HERRING Without MUSTARD

  “Alan Bradley’s third Flavia de Luce mystery, A Red Herring Without Mustard, exceeds in every way, if that’s even possible, his first two. Flavia uses her trademark cunning by scheming to get even with her older sisters, who lay in wait to torment her. She saves a Gypsy’s life, befriends Porcelain, the Gypsy’s granddaughter, solves a puzzling and bizarre murder involving an ancient nonconformist cult, collects clues the police have missed, and fearlessly ventures into danger. She is always feisty, always smart. I adore her. And while it is wonderful to read her as an adult, I wish I’d had Flavia as a role model while growing up. It’s cool to be smart. It’s cool to be Flavia! And it’s great to be among her legion of fans.”

  —LOUISE PENNY,

  bestselling author of The Brutal Telling

  “This idiosyncratic young heroine continues to charm.”

  —The Wall Street Journal

  “Think of Flavia as a new Sherlock in the making.”

  —Booklist

  “Outstanding … In this marvelous blend of whimsy and mystery, Flavia manages to operate successfully in the adult world of crimes and passions while dodging the childhood pitfalls set by her sisters.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  “Bradley’s third book about tween sleuth Flavia de Luce will make readers forget Nancy Drew.”

  —People

  “Oh, to be eleven again and pal around with irresistible wunderkind Flavia de Luce.… A splendid romp through 1950s England led by the world’s smartest and most incorrigible preteen.”

  —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

  “As satisfying as the mystery is, the multiple-award-winning Bradley offers more.… Beautifully written, with fully fleshed characters … [Bradley] secures his position as a confident, talented writer and storyteller.”

  —The Globe and Mail

  “Think preteen Nancy Drew, only savvier and a lot richer, and you have Flavia de Luce.… Don’t be fooled by Flavia’s age or the 1950s setting: A Red Herring isn’t a dainty tea-and-crumpets sort of mystery. It’s shot through with real grit.”

  —Entertainment Weekly

  “Whether battling with her odious sisters or verbally sparring with the long-suffering Inspector Hewitt, our cheeky heroine is a delight. Full of pithy dialogue and colorful characters, this series would appeal strongly to fans of Dorothy Sayers, Gladys Mitchell, and Leo Bruce as well as readers who like clever humor mixed in with their mysteries.”

  —Library Journal (starred review)

  “[Flavia] remains irresistibly appealing as a little girl lost.”

  —The New York Times Book Review

  “Delightful … The book’s forthright and eerily mature narrator is a treasure.”

  —The Seattle Times

  “Flavia, oh Flavia, how I’ve missed you! … If you like your heroines whip-smart, lippy and resourceful, Flavia’s your gal.… This is a delightful read, and I was so immersed at one point I sailed right through my metro stop.”

  —Montreal Gazette

  “As hilarious, gripping and sad as the previous books in this enjoyable series … Once again, Bradley succeeds. And so, of course, does Flavia.”

  —BookPage

  “Bradley has created a marvelous character in Flavia—very adult in some ways, very childish in others, full of energy and curiosity. His story should appeal to readers of all ages looking to escape into a thoroughly entertaining world.”

  —Tulsa World

  “Bradley’s characters, wonderful dialogue and plot twists are a most winning combination.”

  —USA Today

  The WEED That STRINGS

  the HANGMAN’S BAG

  “Flavia is incisive, cutting and hilarious … one of the most remarkable creations in recent literature.”

  —USA Today

  “Like its heroine, the novel is spiky, surprising fun.”

  —Parade

  “Bradley takes everything you expect and subverts it, delivering a smart, irreverent, unsappy mystery.”

  —Entertainment Weekly

  “The real delight here is her droll voice and the eccentric cast.… Utterly beguiling.”

  —People (four stars)

  “There’s not a reader alive who wouldn’t want to watch Flavia in her lab concocting some nefarious brew.”

  —Kirkus Reviews

  “Brisk, funny and irrepressible, Flavia is distinctly uncute, and the cozy village setting has enough edges to keep suspicions sharp.… Bradley gives a pitch-perfect performance that surpasses an already worthy debut.”

  —Houston Chronicle

  “Her sleuthing skills both amaze and amuse.”

  —Mystery Scene

  “Endlessly entertaining … The author deftly evokes the period, but Flavia’s sparkling narration is the mystery’s chief delight. Comic and irreverent, this entry is sure to build further momentum for the series.”

  —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

  “Smart, funny … His second novel confirms the promise of the first.… Bradley is a writer of great charm and insight, and he infuses even minor characters with indelible personality.… Flavia de Luce, both eleven and ageless, is a marvel and a delight.”

  —Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine

  “Wickedly funny, with an eleven-year-old heroine who is meaner than a snake and smarter than a whip.”

  —The Times-Picayune

  The SWEETNESS at the

  BOTTOM of the PIE

  “Sophisticated, series-launching … It’s a rare pleasure to follow Flavia as she investigates her limited but boundless-feeling world.”

  —Entertainment Weekly (A–)

  THE MOST AWARD-WINNING BOOK OF ANY YEAR!

  WINNER:

  Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel

  Barry Award for Best First Novel

  Agatha Award for Best First Novel

  Dilys Award

  Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel

  Spotted Owl Award for Best Novel

  CWA Debut Dagger Award

  “If ever there was a sleuth who’s bold, brilliant, and, yes, adorable, it’s Flavia de Luce.”

  —USA Today

  “A wickedly clever story, a dead-true and original voice, and an English country house in the summer: Alexander McCall Smith meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Please, please, Mr. Bradley, tell me we’ll be seeing Flavia again soon?”

  —LAURIE R. KING,

  bestselling author of Pirate King

  “Utterly charming! Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce proves to be one of the most precocious, resourceful, and, well, just plain dangerous heroines around. Evildoers—and big sisters—beware!”

  —LISA GARDNER,

  bestselling author of Love You More

  “Impressive as a sleuth and enchanting as a mad scientist, Flavia is most endearing as a little girl who has learned to amuse herself in a big lonely house.”

  —MARILYN STASIO,

  The New York Times Book Review

  “Only those who dislike precocious young heroines with extraordinary vocabulary and audacious courage can fail to like this amazingly entertaining book. Expect more from the talented Bradley.”

  —Booklist (starred review)

  “A delightful new sleuth. A combination of Eloise and Sherlock Holmes … fearless, cheeky, wildly precocious.”

  —The Boston Globe

  “An elegant mystery.”

  —The Plain Dealer

  I Am Half-Sick of Shadows is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictiti
ously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2011 by Alan Bradley

  All rights reserved.

  Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

  DELACORTE PRESS is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

  Bradley, C. Alan

  I am half-sick of shadows: a Flavia de Luce novel / Alan Bradley.

  p. cm.

  eISBN: 978-0-345-53215-2

  1. Girls—England—Fiction. 2. Murder—Investigation—Fiction.

  3. Actresses—Crimes against—Fiction. 4. Motion pictures—

  Production and direction—Fiction.

  I. Title.

  PR9199.4.B7324I15 2011

  813′.6—dc22

  2011022373

  www.bantamdell.com

  Case design: Joe Montgomery

  Case art: Ben Perini

  v3.1

  … She hath no loyal knight and true,

  The Lady of Shalott.

  But in her web she still delights

  To weave the mirrored magic sights,

  For often through the silent nights

  A funeral, with plumes and lights,

  And music, went to Camelot;

  Or, when the moon was overhead,

  Came two young lovers lately wed.

  “I am half-sick of shadows,” said

  The Lady of Shalott.

  ALFRED TENNYSON

  “The Lady of Shalott”

  Contents

  Cover

  Title Page

  Copyright

  Epigraph

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-one

  Chapter Twenty-two

  Postlude

  Dedication

  Acknowledgments

  Other Books by This Author

  About the Author

  • ONE •

  TENDRILS OF RAW FOG floated up from the ice like agonized spirits departing their bodies. The cold air was a hazy, writhing mist.

  Up and down the long gallery I flew, the silver blades of my skates making the sad scraping sound of a butcher’s knife being sharpened energetically on stone. Beneath the icy surface, the intricately patterned parquet of the hardwood floor was still clearly visible—even though its colors were somewhat dulled by diffraction.

  Overhead, the twelve dozen candles I had pinched from the butler’s pantry and stuffed into the ancient chandeliers flickered madly in the wind of my swift passage. Round and round the room I went—round and round and up and down. I drew in great lungfuls of the biting air, blowing it out again in little silver trumpets of condensation.

  When at last I came skidding to a stop, chips of ice flew up in a breaking wave of tiny colored diamonds.

  It had been easy enough to flood the portrait gallery: An India-rubber garden hose snaked in through an open window from the terrace and left running all night had done the trick—that, and the bitter cold which, for the past fortnight, had held the countryside in its freezing grip.

  Since nobody ever came to the unheated east wing of Buckshaw anyway, no one would notice my improvised skating rink—not, at least, until springtime, when it melted. No one, perhaps, but my oil-painted ancestors, row upon row of them, who were at this moment glaring sourly down at me from their heavy frames in icy disapproval of what I had done.

  I blew them a loud, echoing raspberry tart and pushed off again into the chill mist, now doubled over at the waist like a speed skater, my right arm digging at the air, my pigtails flying, my left hand tucked behind my back as casually as if I were out for a Sunday stroll in the country.

  How lovely it would be, I thought, if some fashionable photographer such as Cecil Beaton should happen by with his camera to immortalize the moment.

  “Carry on just as you were, dear girl,” he would say. “Pretend I’m not here.” And I would fly again like the wind round the vastness of the ancient paneled portrait gallery, my passage frozen now and again by the pop of a discreet flashbulb.

  Then, in a week or two, there I would be, in the pages of Country Life or The Illustrated London News, caught in mid-stride—frozen forever in a determined and forward-looking slouch.

  “Dazzling … delightful … de Luce,” the caption would read. “Eleven-year-old skater is poetry in motion.”

  “Good lord!” Father would exclaim. “It’s Flavia!

  “Ophelia! Daphne!” he would call, flapping the page in the air like a paper flag, then glancing at it again, just to be sure. “Come quickly. It’s Flavia—your sister.”

  At the thought of my sisters I let out a groan. Until then I hadn’t much been bothered by the cold, but now it gripped me with the sudden force of an Atlantic gale: the bitter, biting, paralyzing cold of a winter convoy—the cold of the grave.

  I shivered from shoulders to toes and opened my eyes.

  The hands of my brass alarm clock stood at a quarter past six.

  Swinging my legs out of bed, I fished for my slippers with my toes, then, bundling myself in my bedding—sheets, quilt, and all—heaved out of bed and, hunched over like a corpulent cockroach, waddled towards the windows.

  It was still dark outside, of course. At this time of year the sun wouldn’t be up for another two hours.

  The bedrooms at Buckshaw were as vast as parade squares—cold, drafty spaces with distant walls and shadowy perimeters, and of them all, mine, in the far south corner of the east wing, was the most distant and the most desolate.

  Because of a long and rancorous dispute between two of my ancestors, Antony and William de Luce, about the sportsmanship of certain military tactics during the Crimean War, they had divided Buckshaw into two camps by means of a black line painted across the middle of the foyer: a line which each of them had forbidden the other to cross. And so, for various reasons—some quite boring, others downright bizarre—at the time when other parts of the house were being renovated during the reign of King George V, the east wing had been left largely unheated and wholly abandoned.

  The superb chemical laboratory built by his father for my great-uncle Tarquin, or “Tar,” de Luce had stood forgotten and neglected until I had discovered its treasures and made it my own. With the help of Uncle Tar’s meticulously detailed notebooks and a savage passion for chemistry that must have been born in my blood, I had managed to become quite good at rearranging what I liked to think of as the building blocks of the universe.

  “Quite good?” a part of me is saying. “Merely ‘quite good’? Come off it, Flavia, old chum! You’re a bloody marvel, and you know it!”

  Most chemists, whether they admit it or not, have a favorite corner of their craft in which they are forever tinkering, and mine is poisons.

  While I could still become quite excited by recalling how I had dyed my sister Feely’s knickers a distinctive Malay yellow by boiling them in a solution of lead acetate, followed by a jolly good stewing in a solution of potassium chromate, what really made my heart leap up with joy was my ability to produce a makeshift but handy poison by scraping the vivid green verdigris from the copper float-ball of one of Buckshaw’s Victorian toilet tanks.

  I bowed to myself in the looking glass, laughing aloud at the sig
ht of the fat white slug-in-a-quilt that bowed back at me.

  I leapt into my cold clothing, shrugging on at the last minute, on top of everything else, a baggy gray cardigan I had nicked from the bottom drawer of Father’s dresser. This lumpy monstrosity—swarming with khaki and maroon diamonds, like an overbaked rattlesnake—had been knitted for him the previous Christmas by his sister, Aunt Felicity.

  “Most thoughtful of you, Lissy,” Father had said, deftly dodging any outright praise of the ghastly garment itself. When I noticed in August that he still hadn’t worn the thing, I considered it fair game and it had, since the onset of cold weather, become my favorite.

  The sweater didn’t fit me, of course. Even with the sleeves rolled up I looked like a baggy monkey picking bananas. But to my way of thinking, at least in winter, woolly warmth trumps freezing fashion any day of the week.

  I have always made it a point never to ask for clothing for Christmas. Since it’s a dead cert that you’ll get it anyway, why waste a wish?

 
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