Review: A Red Herring Without Mustard

ImageTitle: A Red Herring Without Mustard (Flavia de Luce #3)

Author: Alan Bradley

Rating: ★★★★★

Provided Synopsis: Award-winning author Alan Bradley returns with another beguiling novel starring the insidiously clever and unflappable eleven-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce. The precocious chemist with a passion for poisons uncovers a fresh slew of misdeeds in the hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey—mysteries involving a missing tot, a fortune-teller, and a corpse in Flavia’s own backyard. 

Flavia had asked the old Gypsy woman to tell her fortune, but never expected to stumble across the poor soul, bludgeoned in the wee hours in her own caravan. Was this an act of retribution by those convinced that the soothsayer had abducted a local child years ago? Certainly Flavia understands the bliss of settling scores; revenge is a delightful pastime when one has two odious older sisters. But how could this crime be connected to the missing baby? Had it something to do with the weird sect who met at the river to practice their secret rites? While still pondering the possibilities, Flavia stumbles upon another corpse—that of a notorious layabout who had been caught prowling about the de Luce’s drawing room.

Pedaling Gladys, her faithful bicycle, across the countryside in search of clues to both crimes, Flavia uncovers some odd new twists. Most intriguing is her introduction to an elegant artist with a very special object in her possession—a portrait that sheds light on the biggest mystery of all: Who is Flavia?

As the red herrings pile up, Flavia must sort through clues fishy and foul to untangle dark deeds and dangerous secrets.

Review: While the previous two books in the series have been great, I truly believe that A Red Herring Without Mustard is the best Flavia de Luce mystery that I have read to date. Once again, Alan Bradley has created a fascinating mystery for us to digest and dissect. When a gypsy comes into down she is soon attacked within the safety of her caravan. Not soon after, another body is found hanging on a fountain of Buckshaw Estate. Is there a connection between the two? What more has been brushed over in the long history of Bishop’s Lacey, such as the behavior and practices of a religious sect that used a river behind Buckshaw for their practices. The mysteries are hitting closer and closer to home, and while Daffy might not appreciate the pile-up of bodies it is clear that her younger sister has no qualms with it.

Along with Flavia the reader comes into contact with characters and places we have previously been introduced to; then, there is the introduction of plenty of new characters, such as Porcelain Lee, Fenella Faa, and Vanetta Harewood. It was the new characters that made this book so fascinating, for they pulled back further layers of Flavia’s character. We learn more about our favorite sleuth than ever before — such as her longing for her mother, and the hurt she feels over her sister’s hatred of her. The longer this series goes the more Flavia continues to develop. She is not only solving mysteries about her village, but also about herself.

Other characters in Bishop’s Lacey are also evolving. And because I have seen the complaint that the pacing of these books tends to drag on, I’d like to take the time to address my thoughts on the matter. I think the pacing is perfect and lends a characteristic to the hamlet and the way of life there. Bishop’s Lacey is a small village where everyone seems to be in the business of others; if it were not for that quality of the town then Flavia would have a much more difficult time solving mysteries. The pacing places the reader within the location, allowing us to hop upon Gladys to coast down country lanes. Some things need to be taken slow to better appreciate the details.

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