RogerBW's Blog

A Red Herring Without Mustard, Alan Bradley 29 October 2016

2011 historical mystery; third in Bradley's series about Flavia de Luce, young amateur sleuth in 1950s Britain. A missing baby, an assault on a Gypsy (sic) fortune-teller, and a murder in Flavia's own home will all turn out to be connected.

Not for a while, though. And there's the local weird sect that's perhaps not as extinct as everyone thinks, and a long stumble through the abandoned water-tunnels under the gardens of Buckshaw. Once more the roots of the mystery are sunk deep in the past (well, Flavia is still eleven, so many things are for her).

Things feel rather unfocused at times, but the mystery holds it all together – just about. Flavia by now ought to know better than to interfere with crime scenes, but she still does it. Her sisters are still horrible, but here it feels actively abusive rather than the usual give-and-take of a relationship.

I can see that Bradley wants to keep Flavia eleven years old, but three murders over one long summer starts to seem like rather a lot for a little village in the country; that nobody remarks on this is a bit of a break in the emotional verisimilitude. (I can accept an eleven-year-old chemical genius with her own private, if antiquated, laboratory, but failing to comment on all these murders makes the people not work.)

It's definitely worth reading these books in order if you're going to read them at all. This one changes direction a bit, leaning more on the meat of the mystery and less on the distractions of family and village life; it's weaker thereby, but often more interesting. Followed by I Am Half-Sick of Shadows.

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