I am a major Flavia de Luce fan. She’s an 11 year old Nancy Drew meets Sherlock Holmes with a Sheldon Cooper-esque IQ, solving mysteries in an Agatha Christie/Caroline Graham world. She boils tea in a Bunsen burner, uses science to play pranks on her older sisters, and misses her mother, who died when Flavia was too young to remember anything about her. Charming, precocious, and vulnerable, Flavia is probably the most endearing heroine I’ve encountered in contemporary fiction.
So I come into Red Herring without Mustard as a fan, and am thrilled to see at the end of the book that there is a Flavia de Luce fan club! The book begins with Flavia accidentally setting fire to a Gypsy’s tent and inviting the Gypsy to park her caravan on Flavia’s family’s land. As any mystery fan knows, it’s never a good idea to accept an invitation from an amateur detective, and (SPOILER ALERT!) sure enough, the Gypsy is murdered.
The mystery itself is a good, solid, convoluted tale. I didn’t find it as interesting as Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (The Weed that Strings a Hangman’s Bag is still on my To-Read list), but it’s still a good mystery that kept me guessing. Still, you don’t necessarily read a Flavia de Luce tale for the myriad twists and turns of the plot. A Flavia de Luce tale is a lark, a fun, charming read where you fall in love with Bishop’s Lacey and the characters who live in it. And what a lark this tale is! Without giving too much away, I just have to say, I love Flavia’s mirror trick. Pure genius.
Flavia also comes up with some gems of wisdom that I, as a lifelong mystery buff, just want to highlight and quote to others over and over again. One insight in particular just blew me away: “I’ve recently come to the conclusion that the nursery rhyme riddle is the most basic form of the detective story. It’s a mystery stripped of all but the essential facts.” Wow. Yes, absolutely yes. The Flavia de Luce stories are an homage to this notion (Bradley’s titles are very nursery rhyme-like), and an homage as well to Agatha Christie, with so many of her mysteries referring to nursery rhymes (One, Two, Buckle My Shoe, Hickory Dickory Dock, A Pocket Full of Rye, “Four and Twenty Blackbirds”). I’m a lifelong mystery buff, and a major Agatha Christie fan, and so this just made me fall even more in love with the Flavia de Luce series.
Bradley also gives us a beautiful look at Flavia’s vulnerability in Red Herring. Flavia finds out a bit more about her mother, and we see how much Flavia wishes she had known her mother, and how much Flavia wishes she could be confident in her mother’s love for her. Flavia is so intelligent that it’s sometimes easy to forget she’s still a child, and Red Herring reminds us of this in subtle, heartbreaking, beautifully written scenes.
Loveable character, wonderful book, amazing series. Someone told me recently that the only negative thing she can say about the Flavia de Luce series is that there aren’t enough books in it. So to that customer and any other fellow Flavia fans, here’s some good news: according to his author biography, Alan Bradley’s already working on the next Flavia de Luce mystery. Any chance of a book tour with a Toronto stop, Mr. Bradley?