A Red Herring without Mustard by Alan Bradley
2 September, 2011
Flavia de Luce is surely one of the most intriguing characters that has appeared in fiction in recent years. If you haven’t encountered her before, you are in for a treat. In Flavia, Alan Bradley has created a heroine who is enterprising, fearless, inquisitive and utterly adorable. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of chemistry, knows how to make toast using a bunsen burner, uses her fierce intellect in helping solve crimes committed in her village of Bishop’s Lacey and is all of 11 years old.
A Red Herring without Mustard is the third book in Alan Bradley’s series after The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag set in 1950s England. Here we are re-united with Flavia’s family, her self-absorbed father Colonel de Luce, her two elder sisters, beautiful Ophelia (Feely) and bookish Daphne (Daffy), Mrs. Mullet the cook and Dogger, their faithful retainer suffering from post traumatic stress disorder after his experience in the war. At the village fête, Flavia meets Fenella Faa, a gypsy who once knew her mother Harriet and who had fled Bishop’s Lacey twenty years earlier after the disappearance of a child and who is later found lying unconscious in a pool of her own blood. The body of one of the dodgier residents of Bishop’s Lacey is also found strung up from Poseidon’s trident in one of Flavia’s fountains. And there is the mysterious business of missing antiques. While looking for clues, she stumbles upon a forgotten religious sect at the heart of Bishop’s Lacey. And Flavia meets Fenella’s niece, Porcelain, and makes a friend.
As she investigates the weird goings on in her village, Flavia once again tries to stay one step ahead of the dashing Inspector Hewitt while trying to keep her nose clean. But will she be able to stay out of trouble? And what if trouble comes to find her?
This is a much stronger novel than the second volume in the series and once again I laughed out loud at the little jokes and felt touched by Flavia’s family’s need for their dead mother, all shown in different ways. The banter between the sisters is barbed as usual although we do get to witness some instances of sibling unity and a quietly touching scene between Flavia and her father. I also found Porcelain to be an intriguingingly Dickensian urchin and hope she turns up in further adventures. And what a lovely name!
Bradley’s series never fails to remind me of why I love reading. It’s funny, eccentric and with just the right touch of menace.
Thank you very much to Orion Books who kindly sent me a copy of this book to review.