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Book: A Red Herring Without Mustard

October 8, 2011

Flavia de Luce never fails to charm.

In this third installation, our heroine and intrepid detective Flavia de Luce attempts to solve the near-murder of a gypsy. In doing so, she encounters a real murder, uncovers an old mystery, investigates secret religions and has a few awfully sweet moments with her curmudgeonly, long-suffering father.

As with all the other Flavia mysteries, the point isn’t so much the mystery (although it’s clever and puzzling and fun), it’s the charm of spunky Miss de Luce and her hometown of Bishop’s Lacey. Flying through the village on her bicycle, Gladys, Flavia is the perfect embodiment of a spunky, smart, but still sensitive 11-year-old girl. In fact, it’s her sensitivity underneath her smarty-pants exterior which makes me love her.

Her older sisters, Daphne and Ophelia, are absolutely horrible for her (for reasons which are really not made clear — with each book, a little bit more of the de Luce family history is revealed, and hopefully one of these days Daffy or Feely will spill and we’ll all know why they torment Flavia). Flavia gives as good as she gets, but it’s two against one and they’re bigger, stronger, and meaner. When they’ve taken a prank just a step or two too far, Flavia’s genuine hurt and shakiness made me so sad for her. She is a little girl alone in a big house filled with people who are preoccupied and too busy for her. With no mother to run to for comfort, she turns to chemistry and mystery-solving.

Also, I love that she is a chemist.

I think what struck me most in this installment was the emphasis on her relationships. She is puzzled by her sisters’ persistent nastiness towards her, and hurt by her father’s distance. In this book, she makes steps towards a closer relationship with her father, which was nice to see. I like that things are not wrapped up neatly, and no one makes big grand gestures. It’s all about the subtle changes — a kind look instead of a sharp one. A painting thoughtfully placed. An absence of a reprimand. These are the things that tell us (and Flavia) that her father understands, on some level.

I know there’s another Flavia book coming out soon (or is it out already?) but I’m going to save it for perhaps a holiday read.

Also, can I give a big THANK YOU to whoever designs these covers? The Flavia book covers are always in fabulous colors with enigmatic symbols. Perfect. b

16 Comments leave one →
  1. October 8, 2011 12:22 pm

    I can’t wait to read this! Thank for not giving too much away!

    Also, I agree: Flavia sometimes seems like such an old soul, plotting her sisters’ demises, that when she becomes a kid and is shaken and unhappy about her family it makes it all the more touching.

    Also, II, I agree: the covers are excellent.

    • October 8, 2011 8:05 pm

      Yes, exactly. She’s conniving and evil, plotting dastardly deeds, but then tears up when one of her sisters is particularly cruel. Heartbreaking.

  2. October 8, 2011 1:05 pm

    I need to read more Flavia! She did completely charm me in the first book.

  3. October 8, 2011 7:33 pm

    I just read the first novel in this series, and I’m really looking forward to the next few. This one sounds fantastic!

    I agree about the covers. They are wonderful. I would love to have them all sitting on my shelf. 🙂

    Great review!

  4. October 9, 2011 3:25 am

    I finally bought the first book I guess I need to push it up on my reading list!

  5. October 11, 2011 2:23 am

    So happy to see that you loved this book. I think it is my favorite of the series thus far, but of course its building upon the other two is part of what makes it so. You are very right in describing the changes as “subtle”, as that is how the de Luce story is unfolding, slowly and subtly we are learning more about the family and I liked what was revealed in this book.

    Flavia is a dear and I love that the real mystery of these novels is what happened to her mother and what is continuing to occur with her family. I do suspect one day all will be revealed as Flavia’s stories come to a close.

    The new book comes out mid-November and it has a Christmas theme, so perfect timing. I’ll enjoy reading it over the holiday season and really cannot wait. I long for more time with Flavia and Gladys and their adventures.

    • October 11, 2011 5:04 am

      Glorious! A Christmas-themed Flavia de Luce mystery! Spreading the atmosphere over all seasons! What is I read on someone’s blog recently – nothing says ‘holidays’ like a Victorian murder mystery? I’ll put Flavia in that pot as well even if not Victorian 🙂

    • October 11, 2011 8:32 am

      Oh, that is great news! And I agree with Kate: Nothing says Holidays like a nice creepy murder mystery! I’ll keep up the Halloween decor this year through all the holidays, yes?

      • October 11, 2011 8:35 am

        Why not? You could do the whole Nightmare Before Christmas mash up of Halloween and Christmas decorations.

  6. October 11, 2011 8:00 am

    Oh this sounds like fun! I love that her bike’s name is Gladys. maybe I’ll give the first one a go some cozy winter evening.

    • October 11, 2011 8:32 am

      Oh Stef, you will love her. You must read. Perfect for cozy winter evening.

  7. October 16, 2011 2:18 pm

    I must give this series a try!! I almost bought the first book this weekend. And the writer is Canadian, so I have no excuse for not reading it yet. Very good review, Daphne.

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