Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley

A Red Herring Without Mustard, by Alan Bradley, is the third installment of Bradley's award winning Flavia de Luce series.   In 2007, Bradley won the Debut Dagger Award for the first novel in the series, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and thereafter won more than a dozen awards for the book.  The second installment was The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag.

The series is set in 1950 in an ancient manor house on the English countryside.  The stories are told by an eleven year old narrator, Flavia de Luce, a precocious, chatty child, who is an accomplished chemist and a fantastic story teller.  Flavia lives with her emotionally vacant father, her two teenage sisters (Feely and Daffy), the cook, Mrs. Mullet, Dogger, a war veteran/gardener/handyman, and Gladys, her bicycle.  Flavia also lives with the memory of her ancestors, particularly her deceased mother.  The cast is further supported by the local librarian, the inspector, the vicar and others.

In A Red Herring Without Mustard, a gypsy fortune-teller is savagely attacked, a local thief is murdered, a baby is missing and there is a fishy smell in the air.  Flavia sets out to solve it all, matching her skills against the local constabulary.

What makes this series enjoyable is Flavia.  Bradley, a 70 year old Sherlock Holmes scholar (in his book Ms. Holmes of Baker Street, he argued that Sherlock Holmes was really a woman), creates a fun and intelligent character. She is a mix of the sharp brilliance of Sherlock Holmes, the tenacity of Colombo and the cuteness of Punky Brewster.

Some have categorized this series as one for young adults.  The violence aside, Harry Potter was supposed to be for young adults too and millions of adults read and enjoyed him.

Recommendation: The Flavia series is fun and entertaining and will be enjoyed by Agatha Christie lovers. Of the three books, Sweetness is the best. It is hard to beat a great first encounter with such a memorable character.

The book trailer for Sweetness:
An interview with Bradley:

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