A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley. Delacorte Press 2011.
I added my name to the library waiting list for this book quite some time ago. When I got a notice that the book had arrived at my library branch for me, I picked it up, of course, but had second thoughts about taking the time to read it right now. I have, like many readers, a sizeable pile of books sitting on my desk, waiting for me to get to them. Still, Herring had arrived, and I began reading the first chapter. If it didn’t catch me up, I would set it aside for later and move on to something else on my reading list.
By the time I had finished the first chapter, I had dismissed all thoughts of delay. Herring held my attention from the opening pages, in which our heroine Flavia is having her fortune told by a gypsy at the town fair. As tends to happen with Flavia, a bit of an accident leads to the gypsy’s tent burning down and mayhem ensues.
This is the third entry in the Flavia de Luce series, which began with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and continued with The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Purse. The stories revolve around little mysteries but the appeal of these books lies with Falvia herself. She’s an unsual detective: a precocious 11-year-old girl, living in post-WWII England. The small village of Bishop’s Lacey provides a full supporting cast of unusual and eccentric characters. Flavia lives with her father in a large mansion-house outside of town, along with her two older sisters, the self-absorbed Ophelia and the book-absorbed Daphne. Their stamp-absorbed philatelist father mostly leaves the girls to their own devices. Their mother disappeared in a climbing accident when Flavia was a baby. Flavia has taken over her long-gone uncle’s chemistry lab, and has a wing of the house to herself. Flavia gets around with the assistance of Gladys, her bike.
In this outing, Flavia offers the gypsy fortune-teller refuge for her caravan home and horse on the family estate. However, someone has a score to settle with the gypsy. She is attacked in the middle of the night, and it is Flavia who discovers her beaten body just in time to save her. Enter the gypsy’s granddaughter, Porcelain. Flavia invites the mysterious Porcelain back to her room, and as they return to the house, Flavia discovers the body of local ne’er-do-well and bully Brookie Harewood hanging from Poseidon’s trident in the garden fountain.
There are no lulls in the action, as Flavia rushes full-steam ahead with her investigation, in parallel with her favorite policeman, Inspector Hewitt, and wraps up this latest mystery with aplomb. Herring is a quick and entertaining read. There are titillating little tidbits about the long-lost Harriet, Flavia’s mother that I hope will be further explored in Flavia’s next outing. Herring is recommended as a fun, light read. Add it to your summer reading list.