The story opens with the immortal words 'I was lying dead in the churchyard' (spoken, astonishingly, by Flavia herself), and ends with a funeral watched by the De Luce family on a newly installed television set. In between, Alan Bradley weaves a hauntingly nightmarish tale that involves Punch & Judy - and in particular Mr Punch's nemesis, the hangman, Jack Ketch - a frighteningly realistic puppet show and a hitherto unexplored corner of Bishop's Lacey known as Gibbet's Wood. The plot, beginning with the arrival in Bishop's Lacey of a travelling puppet show, features a grisly murder during a performance of Jack and the Beanstalk in the village hall and reaches back to an earlier, even nastier crime centring on an ancient, rotting gibbet that has lain like a shadow over the village for years. For Flavia, undoing the complex knot that ties these strands together will test her precocious powers of deduction to the limit - and provide a shocking insight into some of the darker corners of the adult world.
Alan Bradley is a retired Director of Televison Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, where he lectured on screen writing. He is the author of the memoir, THE SHOEBOX BIBLE, as well as the acclaimed Flavia de Luce mysteries.