A Red Herring without Mustard is the third book in Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mystery series. I loved the first two books in the series (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag) and I was pleased to find that this one is as good as the others.
A Red Herring without Mustard, like the previous books in the series, is set in 1950s England, in the village of Bishop’s Lacey. Flavia de Luce is an eleven-year-old girl who lives with her father and sisters on their family estate, Buckshaw. Flavia has a passion for chemistry and a talent for solving murder mysteries, despite the attempts of Inspector Hewitt to stop her becoming involved. Away from her detective work, Flavia enjoys riding her trusty bicycle, Gladys, spending time in her chemical laboratory and thinking up ways to get revenge on her two sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, who are forever torturing her.
In this book a gypsy woman, Fenella Faa, is brutally attacked while camping in The Palings, part of the de Luce estate. As Flavia begins to investigate the assault, a bizarre murder takes place in the grounds of Buckshaw. The two must be connected, but how? And why is there always a smell of fish at the scene of the crime?
I thought the mystery in this book was slightly more complex than the previous ones, but for me, the real charm of this book (and the series as a whole) is not the mystery plot but the character of Flavia herself and her interactions with the people around her. In this third instalment of the series there’s a lot of focus on Flavia’s family history and in particular, the story of her mother, Harriet, who died when Flavia was younger. I enjoyed learning more about the de Luce family and it seemed that there was some development with not only Flavia’s character but also of her father and sisters, Feely and Daffy. I would like to know exactly why Feely and Daffy are both so horrible to Flavia though, and I’m hoping their relationship will improve by the end of the series!
As well as Flavia’s family, there are a large number of other recurring characters who we meet again in this book including the de Luce servants, Mrs Mullet and Dogger. We are also introduced to a new character, Fenella’s granddaughter, Porcelain Lee. I don’t know if Porcelain will appear in any future books but I hope she does as I would like Flavia to have a friend.
The other thing I love about this series is the old-fashioned feel and the setting of Bishop’s Lacey, a small village community where everybody knows everybody else. It was also interesting to explore some of the hidden corners of Buckshaw, Flavia’s home.
If you’re new to Flavia de Luce, you could probably start reading at any point in the series but I would recommend beginning with the first one and reading them in order. If you’ve enjoyed either or both of the previous novels there’s a good chance that you’ll like this one too as it’s really very similar. And the good news for Flavia fans is that the fourth book, I am Half-Sick of Shadows is out now!