A Red Herring Without Mustard, by Alan Bradley

I don’t know what is going on in Bishop’s Lacey. You can’t seem to throw a stone in this place without hitting a conspiracy and a dead body. Luckily for everyone, 11-year-old Flavia de Luce is on the case. Well, she’s interested in the case. And intrusive in the case. And totally holding back evidence until such time as she is forced to hand it over. Maybe it’s not such a lucky thing.

After the interminable opening of The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, I am glad to say that the mystery here gets started within the first sixth of the book, and that the preceding pages are full of Bradley’s wonderful writing so it goes by quite quickly. In this go, Flavia sets fire to a gypsy’s tent, then attempts to atone by offering the gypsy shelter at her family’s estate, then finds an intruder in the house, then finds the gypsy beat over the head and nearly dead. Flavia, delighted by the new mystery, sets off to find the connections between gypsies, thieves, and odd religious sects.

There is also a bit more information about Flavia’s dead mum and the slow ruin of her family’s estate, and I think quite a bit more insight into the characters of Flavia’s sisters and father. I liked this, and I liked the intriguing complexities of this set of mysteries, if not the selective genius of Flavia. It is a lot harder to believe in her 11-year-old-ness in this book and things get awfully convenient for her. But the story is amazingly engrossing and I tore through it in a few hours — though I was able to take a break and have some sleep before getting back to it the next day.

I’m hoping that things calm down around Bishop’s Lacey, but if people just want to keep scheming and dying and whatnot, I’m very interested in hearing about it.

Recommendation: For fans of the Flavia and of precocious science-minded child mystery solvers in general. Are there others? I should go find out.

Rating: 8/10
(Global Reading Challenge: North America)

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