In this third installment of the Flavia de Luce series, the eleven-year-old chemist-turned-amateur sleuth is back again in all her glory. This time, Flavia has her fortune told by a Gypsy woman then invites the woman to park her caravan near Buckshaw, the crumbling de Luce family home. When Flavia returns to check on the gypsy, she finds her attacked and unconscious, almost dead, starting Flavia on another quest to solve a mystery.
Flavia de Luce is a heroine who engenders strong opinions. Those who enjoy these books absolutely adore the resolute and crafty eleven-year-old. They appreciate her ingenuity and utter lack of fear in delving into the deepest and darkest mysteries. But those who don’t find her charming really can’t stand her. They find her overly precocious and unbelievable, and don’t find Bradley’s books appealing. Those who are in the former camp and love Flavia should be excited to read A Red Herring Without Mustard.
Flavia is as meddlesome as ever here. She’s witty and irrepressible, vowing to get to the bottom of the mystery and finding herself embroiled in the middle of it every step of the way. Her relationship with her sisters continues to be adversarial; it would be nice in future books if Flavia worked towards détente. They can only torture one another for so long before that begins to grate. Happily, Flavia seems to have taken the first steps towards that in A Red Herring Without Mustard. Flavia is a delight to read about, and, as always, the secondary cast of characters is well developed and happily eccentric.
The plot of A Red Herring Without Mustard ties in many different threads from smaller storylines through the novel. The central mystery is the attack on the gypsy woman, but this leads Flavia places she never would have imagined. From exploring the death of an infant years before to discovering the inner workings of a cult and finding out whether it has a presence in her town of Bishop’s Lacey, Bradley keeps Flavia extremely busy in this novel. The storyline of Flavia’s father’s increasing desperation to keep his family in their home, while subtle, is exceptionally well done. All in all, the novel keeps the reader engaged from beginning to end with its intricate plot.
These are not novels you necessarily need to read in order. All have the same basic premise, and there are no spoilers or overarching mysteries from one book to another. It would be quite easy to start with A Red Herring Without Mustard, though this has a more complex plot than the previous two novels. If you haven’t given Flavia a try yet, pick up one of these books at your earliest convenience. You’ll discover your opinion on her quickly, and hopefully you will be one of the many charmed by Flavia de Luce.