A Red Herring Without MustardBook - 2011
In the third installment of this bestselling, award-winning, sister-poisoning, bicycle-riding, murder-investigating, and utterly captivating series, Flavia de Luce must draw upon Gypsy lore and her encyclopaedic knowledge of poisons to prevent a grave miscarriage of justice.
"You frighten me," the old Gypsy woman says. "Never have I seen my crystal ball so filled with darkness." So begins eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce's third adventure through the charming but deceptively dark byways of the village of Bishop's Lacey. The fortune teller also claims to see a woman who is lost and needs help to get home--and Flavia knows it must be her mother Harriet, who died when Flavia was less than a year old. The Gypsy's vision opens up old wounds for our precocious yet haunted heroine, and sets her mind racing in search of what it could mean.
When Flavia later goes to visit the Gypsy at her encampment, she certainly doesn't expect to find the poor old woman lying near death in her caravan, bludgeoned in the wee hours. Was it an act of retribution by those who thought that the woman had abducted a local child years before? Certainly Flavia understands the bliss of settling scores; revenge is a delightful pastime when one has two odious older sisters. But how can she prove this crime is connected to the missing baby? Did it have something to do with the weird sect who met at the river to practice their secret rites?
While still pondering the possibilities, Flavia stumbles upon a corpse--that of a notorious layabout and bully she had only recently caught prowling about Buckshaw. The body hangs from a statue of Poseidon in Flavia's very own backyard, and our unflappable sleuth knows it's up to her to figure out the significance. Pedalling her faithful bicycle, Gladys, across the countryside in search of clues to both crimes, Flavia uncovers secrets both long-buried and freshly stowed--the dodgy dealings of a local ironworks, the truth behind the Hobblers' secret meetings, her own ancestor's ambitious plans--all the while exhausting the patience of Inspector Hewitt. But it's not long before the evidence starts falling into place, and Flavia must take drastic action to prevent another violent attack.
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Alan Bradley has invented possibly the most interesting detective since Poirot, complete with as unique a name, eleven-year old Flavia de Luce. She is interesting because of her twelve-dollar vocabulary, first-rate wit, and scientific mind (she has a penchant for chemistry and poisons in particular). She is believable because of the battles she has with her two older sisters, Ophelia (“with Feely it’s always best to employ the rapid retort”) and Daphne (“two-years older than me and already an accomplished co-torturer”). But far from being merely precocious, Bradley gives audiences reasons to empathize with Flavia – a distant father, a mother she never knew but hopes to become, and a desperate wish for respect and affection from the very sisters with whom she bickers – smart as Flavia is, she cannot tell when they are merely teasing, because like most sisters, they know exactly which buttons to push for maximum effect. Flavia retorts with her wits (calling them such names as “stupid sausage” and “unpleasant porpoise”), but this gives her the drive to be a heroine in her own stories, to ferret out the clues to local mysteries, and in this third Flavia novel, the crimes are two-fold: who would attack an elderly Gypsy, and who would murder the local troublemaker? And does either have anything to do with some missing antiques from Buckshaw, Flavia’s ancestral but fast-decaying home, or a near-forgotten religious cult called the Hobblers? Flavia’s imagination leads to self-flattering fantasies so she is always a little hurt when people do not respond like she hopes, and her eager mind has not the subtlety of older detectives, so she (and her audience) are prone to conclusion-jumping. But following red herrings throughout 1950’s village England with such a well-drawn guide is a lark, especially one with gifts for lively description and imagination.
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