The joy that overcame me when ‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’, the latest Flavia De Luce novel, arrived on the door mat was quite something. I have been following Flavia’s adventures since I received an early proof of ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ and then ‘The Weeds That Strings The Hangmans Bag’ and each has been a pure pleasure to read. Then my joy wavered slightly as I had that worry of ‘oh no, will this be as good as the previous two?’ and so I held of reading… for a whole day when I could wait no longer. How chuffed am I then that ‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’ might just be my favourite of the Flavia novels, and also one of the most enjoyable reads for me of the year so far.
The only problem with writing any book thoughts on a mystery is that you really don’t want to give too much away and this is the issue I am facing writing about ‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’ because so far of the Flavia De Luce mysteries I think this is the most twisty and complex. It is still set in the 1950’s fictional English town of Bishop’s Lacey where the De Luce’s reside in the grand house of Buckshaw and it is indeed in the grounds of Buckshaw where a brutal attack is carried out on a gypsy who Flavia has given permission to camp in. Palings is a slightly spooky wooded part of the estate which of course gives great atmosphere to the opening of the book and makes it all the more thrilling.
Naturally the police involved, in particular Inspector Hewitt, don’t want Flavia to be. This is much to Flavia’s fury and indeed indignation as she has solved a few crimes for them for in the past. So naturally she starts trying to investigate herself. What turns up is not just the mystery of the gypsy but a murder mystery from Bishop Lacey’s past and one that isn’t as forgotten as Flavia initially believes. If that wasn’t enough as Flavia uncovers more secrets new light starts to shine on the very death of Flavia’s mother Harriet, all started off by her whimsical visit to the gypsy in question at the village fete.
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. I also think his choice of Flavia as an unusual child protagonist with her character and observations are precocious, hilarious and blunt all in one, are spot on. You are thrilled and entertained in equal measure. In only a few pages, when discussing her sisters Daphne and Feely, you know you are in the mind of Flavia and the fun begins.
“Oh there you are, you odious little prawn. We’ve been looking for you everywhere.”
It was Ophelia, the older of my two sisters. Feely was seventeen, and ranked herself right up there with the Blessed Virgin Mary, although the chief difference between then, I’m willing to bet, is that the BVM doesn’t spend twenty-three hours a day peering at herself in a looking glass while picking away at her face with a pair of tweezers.
With Feely, it was always best to employ the rapid retort: “How dare you call me a prawn, you stupid sausage? Fathers told you more than once it’s disrespectful.”
I loved ‘A Red Herring Without Mustard’. Not only for its plot which is the perfect mystery with thrills and spills, and lots of red herrings, also because I got to spend more time with Flavia, more time with her family and more time with some of the bonkers characters living in the village. If you want a mystery that is entertaining, well written (and really makes you feel you are living in the world it creates) and will have you guessing then you can’t go wrong with this. 10/10
Have any of you read the Flavia de Luce books? If you haven’t then drop what you are doing and read them from the start straight away. They will bring you hours of entertainment I can almost guarantee. Which are your favourite series of novels, be they crime or not, and why? Any novels where you simply read them to spend time in the protagonists company?