A Red Herring Without MustardLarge Print - 2011
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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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