A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

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A Red Herring Without Mustard is the third book in Alan Bradley’s Flavia De Luce series. Curiously enough, this is the first book I have reviewed because I am woefully behind with my reviews.

Flavia De Luce is a young girl living in a crumbling manor house near a small village in post-WWII England. She lives with her stamp collecting father, her two teenage sisters, and Dogger, their father’s butler/valet/gardener.

A Red Herring Without Mustard concerns the events following a village fair. Flavia invites the gypsy fortuneteller to park her caravan in a remote part of the Buckshaw estate. When Flavia returns to check on her guest, she sees that the woman has been brutally attacked. As if that were not bad enough, Flavia then stumbles upon a body on the Buckshaw estate. With two crimes that may or may not be related, our intrepid young sleuth has two mysteries to solve!    

This was a satisfying mystery. I was not able to figure out what had transpired before Flavia, but I was grateful for the opportunity to go along for the journey as she questioned the residents of Bishop’s Lacey. The village is full of eccentric characters, and this book introduced the possibility of an underground religious sect that might not have died out centuries ago.

I always listen to the Audible editions of these books because Jayne Entwistle is one of my favorite narrators. Flavia is already a vivid character, and Entwistle brings her to life with cunning snark. Flavia has a rather polarizing personality that teeters between precociousness and obnoxiousness. If you veer to the former, you’ll find Flavia quite endearing. She is prone to tangents and asides, which can be distracting, but she always gets around to making her point eventually. I have a ten-year-old daughter, and although my girl is not a chemical genius like Flavia, I can verify that this is an accurate portrayal of the age group. Flavia’s quips are quite funny; one of my favorites, to paraphrase, was- “They fell upon the meal like wolves upon Russian peasants.”

I would recommend A Red Herring Without Mustard. The books function well as standalones, so you don’t have to have read the previous books in the series. However, Flavia is just so delightful that you ought to start the series at the beginning. I should mention that although this series features a young protagonist, it isn’t considered a children’s series. There’s nothing particularly inappropriate about them, other than Flavia solving murders. Some older children might enjoy these books, but they are intended for adult readers. I am looking forward to listening to the rest of the series; I’ve been rationing them out to myself slowly because I don’t want to run out of Flavia books!

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