I fell in love with Flavia De Luce - the 11 yr old protagonist in Bradley's award winning first book - The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. (my review)
Flavia, her two older and (according to Flavia) odious sisters live with their preoccupied father in a crumbling mansion in 1950's England. Flavia has ensconced herself in the east wing, home to an ancestor's formidable chemistry lab. Flavia is enthralled by all things scientific, but especially poisons.
A Red Herring Without Mustard opens with Flavia stopping in at the fortune telling booth at the local church fete. Startled by the Gypsy's pronouncement, Flavia inadvertently sets fire to the woman's tent. In an effort to make amends she drives the elderly woman and her caravan to camp on her family's estate. However, when she goes back to check on her (being Flavia) in the middle of the night, she finds the woman near death from a beating. Having saved her life, Flavia sets out to discover who the dastardly perpetrator of such a nasty deed could be. The plot thickens as seemingly unrelated events muddy the waters. Plenty of red herrings abound.
I've said it in past reviews of Bradley's books and I'll say it again. The mystery is always fun, but it is the character of Flavia that enthralls me. She is old beyond her years, with an indomitable spirit and her inquisitive mind is always entertaining!
"Still, because the old boy deserved it, I gave Uncle Tar's portrait a brisk Girl Guide salute, even though I'd been drummed out of that organization, quite unfairly I thought, by a woman with no sense of humor whatsoever. 'Honestly, Miss Pashely, I'd have told her, had I been given half a chance, 'the ferric hydroxide was only meant to be joke.'"
" I had long ago discovered that when a word or formula refused to come to mind, the best thing for it was to think of something else: tigers, for instance, or oatmeal. Then, when the fugitive world was least expecting it, I would suddenly turn the full blaze of my attention back onto it, catching the culprit in the beam of my mental torch before it could sneak off again into the darkness. Thought-stalking, I called the technique, and I was proud of myself for having invented it."
In this third offering though, there seems to be a bit of a chink in her armour. She is still trying to come to terms with her mother's absence and this makes her a little more real and vulnerable. More of a personal note has been injected into this third offering.
What's the appeal of an eleven year old protagonist for adults? Well, for me - I always wanted to be Harriet the Spy and outwit the adults. Bradley has created an utterly original, engaging character in Flavia. Trust me - these books are absolutely addicting reads that end far too quickly. I'll be eagerly awaiting the next in the series - Seeds of Antiquity.
Get a sneak peek - read an excerpt of A Red Herring Without Mustard. Or join the Flavia fan club!