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A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel    by Alan Bradley order for
Red Herring Without Mustard
by Alan Bradley
Order:  USA  Can
Random House, 2011 (2011)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD, e-Book

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

A Red Herring Without Mustard is the third (following The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag) in the smashing sleuthing adventures of precocious eleven-year-old chemist Flavia de Luce in Bishop's Lacey, England. The mystery is interspersed with ongoing hostilities with Flavia's two elder sisters, of whom she comments, 'Compared with my life, Cinderella was a spoiled brat.'

As young Flavia gets herself deeper and deeper into trouble, we learn that the de Luce family fortunes are in very bad shape. Buckshaw belonged to Flavia's mother who died without leaving a will, and its maintenance costs are ruinous - the wolves are again howling on the doorstep. Father has even started selling his stamps. Flavia also learns a little more about her mysterious mother, who apparently died in a climbing accident in Tibet when she was a baby.

A Red Herring Without Mustard opens on Flavia's consultation with a gypsy fortune teller at the village church fair. Shocked by what she hears, Flavia accidentally sets the tent on fire. Feeling guilty, she gives the old gypsy permission to set up her camp in a grove by the river on the Buckshaw estate. That night she surprises an intruder in the mansion, ne'er-do-well Brookie Harewood (who's supported by his artist mother Vanetta). Checking on the old gypsy, Flavia finds her lying in a pool of blood, her caravan reeking of fish. She survives, barely.

A new friendship starts with a knife held at Flavia's throat by young Porcelain. There's a death by lobster pick, the corpse discovered at Buckshaw; a shady antiques dealer; an ancient Hobblers cult whose members still practice their religion; and another body unearthed that solves a cold case for Inspector Hewitt (with Flavia's help of course). I liked A Red Herring Without Mustard even better than The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag and can't wait for Flavia's next investigative outing on her trusty Gladys.

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