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Alan Bradley – A Red Herring Without Mustard

March 12, 2012

24. A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley (2011)
The Buckshaw Chronicles, Book 3

Read my review of book:
1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
2. The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag

Length: 416 pages
Genre: Historical Fiction, Mystery

Started: 27 February 2012
Finished: 01 March 2012

Where did it come from? The library.
Why do I have it? I’ve been wanting to read this one for at least a year.

Flavia’s just a
normal pre-teen, but for the
poisons and corpses.

Summary: Burning down the gypsy fortune teller’s tent at the village fair probably wasn’t the best idea, even if Flavia de Luce (master chemist, expert in poisons, eleven year old) didn’t do it on purpose. But the series of events that follows certainly seems like it might be the result of a gypsy curse… Flavia takes the gypsy to park her caravan in the back fields of her family home at Buckshaw, only to find her soon afterwards the victim of a vicious attack. Flavia’s eager to participate in the investigation, but the police are doing their best to keep her away from the crime scene. On top of all of this, Flavia’s sisters are being horrible to her (as usual), and their father is too caught up in the declining fortunes of Buckshaw to pay much attention, even when a second gruesome murder occurs practically on their doorstep.

Review: I picked this book up because I was in the mood for something warm, comforting, easy, and reliably good, and I know that I can trust the Flavia de Luce books to be all of that. A Red Herring Without Mustard succeeded on all of those fronts: it kept me engaged, kept me entertained, and while it wasn’t a barn-burner, it was, as expected, reliably enjoyable. Cozy mysteries are not a particular favorite subgenre of mine, but Flavia’s such an appealing narrator that I can’t resist. (Plus: chemistry!) She has some nice character moments in this one, and watching the subtle evolution of her relationship with her sisters is one of the joys of the series. The mystery aspect of this installment was mostly well-done, with appropriate numbers of clues being dropped, enough so that I was able to figure out some things but not everything. In the end, though, while the solution made sense, it did seem to come from a number of directions at the same time, and all of the various elements didn’t quite mix together as cohesively as they might have.

Another issue I noticed in this book that I hadn’t in previous books in the series is the question of timeline. I hadn’t realized quite how compressed the books were, but Flavia is still eleven in this book, which means that all three books have taken place over less than a year, and I think over only a few months. While I can see the reasons behind this decision, it does mean that some aspects of the story seem a little off. For one thing, Bishop’s Lacey must have a per capita murder rate surpassing that of London for Flavia to stumble across so many corpses in her young life. It also means that things that are mentioned as ongoing for some time, but that hadn’t cropped up in previous books, feel a little out of place. In the first two books in the series, I didn’t notice these issues, but now the third time around, they were suddenly a lot more prominent.
But overall, none of these issues kept me from enjoying this book, which managed to be light-hearted without being brain fluff and easy to read while still keeping me engaged. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: The series is definitely recommended to anyone who likes historical and/or cozy mysteries or precociously feisty narrators. The mystery aspect of this book could stand alone, but a lot of the interpersonal relationships are richer for reading them in order.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Quite a few of them, over at the Book Blog Search Engine.

First Line: “You frighten me,” the Gypsy said.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 124: “Now here I was, with lightning licking at the transom, pinned against the glass like a butterfly to a card in the Natural History Museum.” – a crosspiece separating a door or the like from a window or fanlight above it.
  • p. 168: “A green charabanc was parked in front of The Bull, its passengers spilling forth into the high street, cameras at the ready, fanning out in every direction with dangling arms, like a gaggle of gunfighters.” – a large bus used on sightseeing tours, especially one with open sides and no center aisle.
  • p. 253: “Immediately in front of me, a sign in painted in blood-red letters on the hulk of a pantechnicon said BEWARE OF THE DOC – as if the animal in question had gone for the artist’s throat before he could finish the letter G.” – a furniture van; moving van.

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2012 10:22 am

    I keep saying it, but I really need to get back to this series. I have only read the first book so far and that was a while ago!

    • March 19, 2012 11:02 am

      Kailana – The good news is that they’re not super-inter-related, plot-wise, so you can go back without worrying about forgetting any important bits.

  2. March 12, 2012 11:19 am

    If I’m going to read out of my “normal genre” then Flavia de Luce is definitely one of my go-tos! Love these books. Really love the audiobooks too. I’ve read the first two, but haven’t picked this one up yet. Thanks!

    • March 19, 2012 11:02 am

      Annette – Oh, I haven’t tried the audiobooks yet (I tend to stick to whatever format I started a series with), but I bet they’d be really fun.

  3. March 13, 2012 12:10 pm

    I’ve read the 2nd book in the series (so typical to read them out of order), but I really must get around to reading them all. I thoroughly enjoyed the 2nd book.

    • March 19, 2012 11:03 am

      Nikki-ann – Definitely! I don’t think reading out of order is such a terrible thing in this series, but it’s for sure worth getting back and reading all of them eventually.

  4. March 14, 2012 9:23 pm

    I hadn’t really thought about the timeline, but you’re right, all the books do occur in a very short period of time. Bishop’s Lacey is a pretty dangerous place to live! Wonder how many more people Bradley is going to kill off?

    • March 19, 2012 11:05 am

      Emily – Normally the timeline wouldn’t bug me too much, but Bradley makes such a point in all three books about the perils and perks of only being 11 that it hit me that Flavia’s practically finding a corpse a month.

      Of course, I think it’s a staple of the genre that small towns with amateur detectives have much higher murder rates than small towns without amateur detectives. :)

      • March 19, 2012 9:13 pm

        So the key to not getting murdered is . . . run out the amateur detectives :)

      • March 20, 2012 9:29 am

        Ah, but I feel like a book in which someone is trying to run the amateur detective out of town would definitely involve at least a few suspicious deaths, too. It’s a quandary!

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