Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Book Review - Alan Bradley's A Red Herring Without Mustard

A Red Herring Without Mustard (Flavia de Luce Mystery 3) by Alan Bradley
Published by: Delacorte
Publication Date: February 8th, 2011
Format: Hardcover, 416 Pages
Rating: ★★★
To Buy
Flavia de Luce really has a bad habit of being at the center of whatever catastrophe is currently gripping Bishop's Lacey. For example, the fire that is currently engulfing the fortune telling tent at the local fete... well, she may or may not be responsible depending on who you ask, so please don't ask. But while the pillar of black smoke rises, Flavia sees that all of Bishop's Lacey is there, even Brookie Harewood, that most mysterious of nefarious men whose income is questionable was berating his lackey Colin. Brookie himself was an enigma, given that his mother was the famous artist, Vanetta Harewood, who made her fortune painting the horse and hounds set and had nothing to do with her disreputable son. Falvia decides it's best to hare out of there before fingers start pointing in her direction as the arsonist, so she offers to help the old gypsy whom she offended with the destruction of her tent. Flavia offers up an area of the family estate, Buckshaw, known as The Palings for the gypsy woman to make camp. On a lovely bend in the river where a nonconformist religion called The Hobbler's used to perform Baptisims. Despite Flavia's generous offer, the gypsy is a little hesitant. It turns out years ago, when her husband was still alive, Flavia's mother, Harriet, used to let them use the land till Flavia's own father drove them off. But that's not nearly as important as the rumors that the gypsies were responsible for the disappearance of the local Bull's baby. Once she has the gyspy all set up, along with a dire warning or two, Flavia heads back to the crumbling family pile, where if something doesn't happen soon they'll no longer be the tenants of, what with the lack of funds. But until that time Flavia can hid in her lab and dream of all the experiments and poisons she could use on her sisters, who happen to be waiting for her at the door with a well placed sack over the head and a little cellar interogation.

Following her harrowing escape from her evil sisters and a little rest, Flavia is wide awake in the middle of the night to find Brookie Harewood standing in their living room eying the brass fire dogs that are a family treasure. After a little incoherent rambling and a warning about the Grey Lady of Buckshaw, Brookie nonchalantly leaves out the door and Flavia begins to wonder what it's all about, but then she begins to worry about the gypsy. Flavia finds the gypsy beaten and clinging to life in The Palings. Thanks to Flavia's quick thinking she saves her life, but now has an attempted murder on her hands. Though she hates to admit it, a little thrill runs through her at the prospect. But soon Brookie ends up dead, hung from the grand fountain at Buckshaw, and Flavia, against the polices pleas to let them do their job, is soon questioning suspects and gliding through the countryside astride her trusty bike Gladys, because a murder is far better than an attempted murder any day. But with acquaintances like the suspicious antiques dealers, the Pettibones, and Edward Sampson, the local junk man, there are a lot of people who might have wanted Brookie dead. But what's even stranger, despite the fire dogs that Brookie showed an unnatural interest in, fire dogs that are still firmly in front of Buckshaw's fire, she has seen them in three other locations. With nefarious activity underfoot in Bishop's Lacey, a long lost painting of her dead mother coming to light, and a crumbling estate that may yet yield new secrets, Flavia is once again in the center of the hurricane. Let's hope she can survive.

With many plot threads dangling all about like the web of the spider that graces the book's cover, it's not surprising that at times I got frustrated with my pint sized friend. Because while I was able to unravel parts of the mystery fairly swiftly, Flavia, with less worldly ways, sometimes took a dash long time to get to the point. Not nearly as gripping as the second, and so far, my favorite book in the series, I felt a little sense of disappointment in reading this latest installment. It felt too spread out and all over the place, like a giant jumble that was purposefully made to create suspense and make us unaware of the killer in our midst. A few too many red herrings that did nothing to elevate the story, but just bogged it down in morass is my analysis. The lure for me in this installment is Buckshaw and the secrets the house itself offers up. So with Falvia dashing about the countryside and rushing hither and yon, I just wanted her to get home and deal with the secrets therein. There were many a new character and Flavia's insular little world seems to be expanding. But it's the smallness of her world that I love. This little community with a lot of secrets. Her family and her house are far more interesting than a gypsy and some feral people living in a ditch who lost their child. While everything does tie together nicely at the end, I think we could have done without the gypsy and the Bull's whose story resolution is a little too similar to the previous book, but with a little "other" thrown in, and concentrated more on the mysterious Brookie and his gang. Maybe just dealing with the evil in their midst versus having outsiders for once would be nice. But then again, outsiders always make good suspects, and the Bulls weren't so much outsiders as outcasts. I'll keep loving Flavia, but hopefully next time she'll be at her best.


Ugh, I'm so behind. Still haven't read book 2! I need to get with it, clearly.

[Side note: my captcha below is "cradist" (wtf?), which made me think of The Office, and the scene where, after Dwight betrays Michael, they have the "Crentist? Your dentist's name is Crentist..." scene. lol)

I just received this book for review. Sad that it doesn't live up to the other books, but I'm excited to read it. I just love Flavia!

You are too funny Misty! And yes, cathc up. Mrs. DeRaps, saying it doesn't live up to the other two isn't such an insult, this book was still far far better than the majority of books out there, it's just Alan Bradley has set such a high standard of awesomeness. Also, I will state, it's just my opnion, I gave the book to my mom and she adored it.

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