Discussion Guide: The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag

1. The novel opens with Flavia going over the circumstances of her own death, as she lies in the churchyard. What effect did this opening have on your reading, or your understanding of Flavia?

2. In interviews, Alan Bradley has often spoken of Flavia’s idealism, and how her extensive understanding of chemistry is offset by a complete lack of understanding when it comes to family relationships. Discuss Flavia’s place within the de Luce family.

3. As Flavia shows Nialla and Rupert the way to Culverhouse Farm, they run into Mad Meg, who tells them, “the Devil’s come back to Gibbet Wood” and also quotes Matthew 10:16 – “Be ye therefore wise as serpents and harmless as doves.” What does she mean? Do you think she is trying to give Flavia a clue as to what she’s seen?

4. Despite its lightness, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag is a dark novel, dealing with the death of a child and the deceptions that both preceded and followed that tragic event. How does Bradley balance the novel’s style with the subject matter?

5. Aunt Felicity is domineering and awful, despite the Colonel’s claims to the contrary; Cynthia is not the bishop’s helpful wife, but an “ogress.” Where do Flavia’s dark opinions of others come from? Is she purposefully undercutting the village’s charming veneer, or does she just not trust anyone?

6. Discuss the circumstances of Robin Ingleby’s death, and how Grace and Gordon Ingleby have lived for the five years since. Do you foresee an end to their grieving, once the truth comes to light?

7. Does Flavia truly engage in the surrounding world, or is her connection merely one of intellectual curiosity?

8. What do you make of Nialla’s reaction to Rupert’s death? Did you ever suspect her of murder? In the end, Flavia imagines her continuing on with the puppet show, out of the limelight…. Do you think she’s right?

9. Why does Flavia find it fairly easy to relate to Mad Meg while others in the village do not?

10. In one interview, Alan Bradley commented, “I don’t think we trust children enough any more [or] leave them alone enough… I recall being that age, and one of the greatest blessings was being left to myself. You find your own interests and amusements and pursue them — and that has a huge effect on the outcome of your life.” Are kids today given enough freedom? Or, is Flavia given too much?

11. One reviewer has compared the fictional setting of Bishop’s Lacey to Agatha Christie’s St. Mary Mead and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s London. Where do you see the Flavia books sitting in terms of traditional English mysteries, or the country-manor mystery genre in particular?

12. While the first two novels of the series have been enjoyed by teen readers as well, the books are written for adults. What is the appeal, for adult readers, of having a precocious eleven-year-old narrator like Flavia?

13. Should Rupert’s killer be send to prison?

14. These novels are so entertaining largely thanks to the originality of the supporting characters, those villagers and interlopers who unknowingly come under Flavia’s microscope with every paged turned. Who are the most interesting characters in the novel? Are there some you would like to see more of in future books?

15. What do you think the future holds for Flavia de Luce?