A Red Herring Without Mustard, by Alan Bradley (Doubleday, 2011)
Adult books with child protagonists are rare—or good ones are. Thankfully, eleven-year-old Flavia deLuce is back, in the third instalment of Alan Bradley’s mysteries series set in 1950’s England.
Flavia’s elder sisters treat her miserably at times, and she dishes it right back at them. They live in sprawling Buckshaw Manor with their inattentive father. Flavia, especially, feels the lack of her mother, who died when Flavia was a baby.
This time the mystery centres around the attack on a gypsy woman who was camping on the Buckshaw grounds at Flavia’s invitation. Flavia feels responsible, and sets out to assist the local constabulary in their investigation. Naturally she manages to get in the way, to use her prodigious knowledge of chemistry, and to discover clues that help solve the case.
Finances are not good for the deLuces, and Father is selling off the family silver. We see the developing relationship between Flavia and her father as they learn to support one another without breaching the “stiff upper lip” exterior. He often seems to view his daughters as creatures outside his comprehension, but by the end of A Red Herring Without Mustard Flavia begins to suspect he may actually be somewhat proud of her.
To me, this novel had more of the feel of the first one, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: intriguing, and a bit playful, much like Flavia herself. I found book two, The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag, a bit more sombre.
For more about Alan Bradley and his novels, visit the official Flavia deLuce website. According to the website, the next novel will be called Seeds of Antiquity.