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A Red Herring Without Mustard


by Alan Bradley


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A Red Herring Without Mustard
by Alan Bradley

Review posted May 7, 2011.
Delacorte Press, New York, 2011. 399 pages.
Starred Review

Hooray! Flavia de Luce is back in this, her third mystery and adventure. She bikes around the family's estate and nearby village in England on a bicycle named Gladys, and manages to find all sorts of trouble. The book begins with Flavia accidentally burning the tent of a Gypsy who tells her fortune. The next morning, Flavia discovers the Gypsy has been bludgeoned, and Flavia summons help -- but not before she gets a good look at the evidence.

Flavia's old friend, Inspector Hewitt, comes to the scene, and this will give you the flavor of why you shouldn't trifle with eleven-year-old Flavia:

"You've got goose bumps," he said, looking at me attentively. "Best go sit in the car."

He had already reached the far side of the bridge before he turned back. "There's a blanket in the boot," he said, and then vanished in the shadows.

I felt my temper rising. Here was this man -- a man in an ordinary business suit, without so much as a badge on his shoulder -- dismissing me from the scene of a crime that I had come to think of as my own. After all, hadn't I been the first to discover it?

Had Marie Curie been dismissed after discovering polonium? Or radium? Had someone told her to run along?

It simply wasn't fair.

A crime scene, of course, wasn't exactly an atom-shattering discovery, but the Inspector might at least have said "Thank you." After all, hadn't the attack upon the Gypsy taken place within the grounds of Buckshaw, my ancestral home? Hadn't her life likely been saved by my horseback expedition into the night to summon help?

Surely I was entitled to at least a nod. But no --

"Go and sit in the car," Inspector Hewitt had said, and now -- as I realized with a sinking feeling that the law doesn't know the meaning of the word "gratitude" -- I felt my fingers curling slowly into involuntary fists.

Even though he had been on the scene for no more than a few moments, I knew that a wall had already gone up between the Inspector and myself. If the man was expecting cooperation from Flavia de Luce, he would bloody well have to work for it.

In this adventure, another murder follows, and past secrets surface. Flavia still is obsessed with chemicals and poisons, and in this book she actually finds a friend near her own age.

The best thing about Flavia de Luce is that I am confident that the Inspector's worst fears will come true: She will not be able to stay out of further trouble. I hear that the next book is coming out this Fall!