Monday, January 9, 2012

A Red Herring Without Mustard

This historical mystery series, set in England in the 1950s, is at the top of my list of favorite whodunits.  The mystery element of each book is intricate and fascinating, yes, but it is the characters, in particular the 11-year-old chemistry genius, Flavia de Luce, that have me hooked. 

The protagonist may be a child, but these books are very much for adults, and there is a certain darkness to the stories that can be very disturbing indeed.  However, that darkness is brightened by the humor of the books, much of which comes from Flavia's delightful narration.  I listened to the audio version of the first book of the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and Jayne Entwistle's reading lent itself so perfectly to the telling of the story that this has become one of those series that I listen to exclusively because reading it on my own just wouldn't measure up. 

This story begins with Flavia visiting a gypsy fortune teller, and old woman who tells Flavia things about her dead mother that she couldn't possibly know.  A chain of events follows that involves a fire, a decades-old kidnapping of a little baby, a brutal assault, the discovery of a dead body, and a bizarre religious sect.  Flavia's curiosity takes her to some unusual places, and during her investigation she uncovers some interesting things about her own family's past.

Flavia is a lonely child, and it would be heartbreaking that her closest friend appears to be Gladys, her bicycle, if it weren't for the fact that she manages, despite the utter dysfunctionality of her family situation, to lead a stimulating and very interesting life.  It was fun to see her having to relate with a younger person, someone nearly her own age (who is not an odious, backstabbing sister) - Flavia is good at manipulating the adults in her life, for the most part, but a peer?  That is unexplored territory for her.  Once again it was a delight to spend time in Flavia's company as she intrepidly follows the course of the investigation, and I look forward to many more installments in this outstanding mystery series.

Books in the Flavia de Luce series:
1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
2. The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag
3. A Red Herring without Mustard
4. I Am Half Sick of Shadows  
A Red Herring Without Mustard (#3 in the Flavia de Luce mystery series) by Alan Bradley; narrated by Jayne Entwistle (Books on Tape, 2011)

Also reviewed at:
Becky's Book Reviews: "I am still loving the writing, the characterization, the descriptions, the pacing. There are just so many things to love!"
Savidge Reads: "Some people might say that these are cosy crime novels and yet I think in every one of Alan Bradley’s novels so far there is a real darkness, along with a certain camp, that make them so addictive."
Stainless Steel Droppings:  "I don’t often read mysteries, but the Flavia novels have become must-reads and are numbered among the more special books in my collection."


  1. I really need to get back to this series... I keep saying that...

  2. My hold just came up for the audio of the latest one. Yay! :-) Yes, you do need to get back to it, and soon. They are sooo good.


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