Thursday, April 28, 2011

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

"Oh there you are, you odious little prawn..." Ophelia "Feely" de Luce, sister of Flavia de Luce from A Red Herring Without Mustard

Is there anyone better at the stinging insult, the perfect put-down, the withering glance or the subtle, yet vicious revenge as the British? I think not!
Just as they excel at creating marvelous actors and wonderful classic and science fiction television programs (witness "Lark Rise to Candleford," "Upstairs, Downstairs" and the glorious "Dr Who"), the British detective who is brilliant, witty and eccentric has become an icon of the mystery genre of fiction.
Thus I had to stop a moment and whisper "God save the Queen!" as I delved into the latest delicious mystery by the always astute Alan Bradley, who is actually a Canadian, not a Brit.
Flavia de Luce is the 11-year-old heroine of Bradleys mysteries, set in the English countryside of the 1950s at a suitably decaying estate full of hidden passageways and unused, spooky rooms. This time our intrepid Flavia is dragged into a mystery when, after burning down her fortune-telling tent, Flavia finds an old gypsy woman covered in blood in her caravan on the grounds of Buckshaw, the de Luce estate (and again, I must pause to say I just adore the way the British have names for their homes; it makes them seem like characters unto themselves), barely alive. Soon after, Flavia stumbles across the old gypsy's granddaughter, Porcelain, and the two of them discover the body of a local poacher and thief hanging dead from the fountain statue of Poseidon. There are plenty of red herrings that Flavia must root through in this edition, however, as she wends her way along the rutted country roads on her trusty bicycle, Gladys. She even finds that a local portrait artist had painted a portrait of her mother and her sisters, with herself as a baby, and just never had the courage to have her grieving father pick it up. She also comes across a strange religious sect and the neighbors secret.
As a reader you can always count on Bradley to write spotless, thoroughly engaging prose that reads much like an updated version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mysteries. He drags you into Flavia's world and before you know it, the denouement has happened and you're at the end, after having been unable to put the book down for fear of missing out on what Flavia is up to next. That is really the worst that can be said of Flavia de Luce mysteries, they end too soon, leaving the reader salivating for more of this bright young girls world full of chemistry experiments and sisterly torment. "A Red Herring Without Mustard" deserves a solid A, and I'd recommend it to anyone who finds the British as fascinating as I do, or those who relish a good mystery solved by an improbable heroine.
Now I am on to the marvelous new book of Diana Tregarde supernatural mysteries, "Trio of Sorcery" by Mercedes Lackey, who never disappoints. I also got a copy of Patricia Briggs "Masques and Wolfsbane" because it sounded somewhat interesting. We shall see.
This was an interesting article, from Shelf Awareness:
Flavorwire showcased "ten of our favorite retold stories Some
of the following plots are lifted from ancient myths, while others come
from relatively new novels. All have put a new spin on familiar tales,
but have been able to make them their own."
And lastly, this is just a sad note on the passing of typewriters:
A moment of silence, please, to mark the end of an era. Godrej and
Boyce, the last company in the world still manufacturing typewriters,
has shut down its production plant in Mumbai, India, with just a few
hundred machines left in stock. The Daily Mail
reported that even though "typewriters became obsolete years ago in the
west, they were still common in India--until recently. Demand for the
machines has sunk in the last ten years as consumers switch to

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