The second Flavia de Luce mystery novel – featuring the sassy eleven year old heroine. Flavia lives in a crumbling manor next to a small English village with a full quota of eccentric characters. In this novel she is called upon to solve the murder of a BBC puppeteer who drops dead in the middle of a performance. Flavia’s absent minded father, scheming sisters and faithful servant Dogger are back, along with her very useful chemistry laboratory.
A small group of students take a weekly cooking class with Lillian, the owner of a small bistro, who discovers their secrets as they learn to cook. Each chapter is devoted to one or two students and their background history, and features a lovingly described recipe that the students prepare during the class. Lillian is somewhat psychic and is able to deduce which ingredient or recipe will provide the key to unblock the emotions and senses of her students.
What the Armchair Critics Thought:
These two books were selected to be read together so that we could explore the nature of the formula novel. We found that the snap and vitality of Flavia and her inquisitive mind in her chemistry lab was a great contrast to the slow and sensual musings of Lillian in her kitchen. With both types of formula novels, a satisfying ending which resolves all the plot points is guaranteed. We noted however that “Essential Ingredients” was like comfort food for the mind, full of lush descriptive passages and positive outcomes – while “Hangman’s Bag” was more of a challenge for the intellect, forcing you to puzzle out the mystery and stay one step ahead.