Is it really necessary to once again enumerate why I love the Flavia DeLuce novels? After all, this is a series of mystery tales, and aren’t they all alike? Well, yes and no. Yes, Flavia is still up to her precocious hi-jinks. Yes, her father is still (somewhat) clueless. Yes, she and her sisters still fight, bicker, and otherwise make each other’s lives miserable. Yes, Flavia’s best friend is still her trusty bicycle, Gladys. Yes, Dogger is still intelligent and dependable, to a point. Yes, Mrs. Mullet is still a font of never-ending gossip that manages to give Flavia just the insight she needs to put one more piece of the mysterious puzzle together.
What makes this one a wee bit different than the previous two novels is that there is a bit of growth in the characters. I think it’s just amazing that Alan Bradley is able to feed the DeLuce story out little by little so that I end up actually liking Colonel DeLuce, a man I didn’t care one bit for in the first novel. In A Red Herring Without Mustard, Flavia even discovers that she, Miss Independence Herself, might possibly need a friend, and she gets one–sort of. Of course, since this is a mystery, this friendship is fraught with all sorts of problems, insecurities, and doubt. The whole poor-Flavia-her-mother-didn’t-love-her device is turned on its nose a bit in this story, too, and I almost cried a little at the end. (Not that I believed that, mind you, but Flavia mostly does.) The bottom line is that we see more of Flavia’s vulnerability–more of everyone’s vulnerability–in this story, and that’s good. I can’t wait to read the next one.
What’s a review of an Alan Bradley novel without a few quotes?
I had already learned that sisterhood, like Loch Ness, has things that lurk unseen beneath the surface, but I think it was only now that I realized that of all the invisible strings that tied the three of us together, the dark ones were the strongest. (41)
I lay in bed watching the dark shadows of the trees as they twitched restlessely on the ceiling. Ever since a territorial dispute between two of my distant ancestors had ended in a bitter stalemate–and a black line painted in the middle of the foyer–this wing of the house had remained unheated. Time and the weather had taken their toll, causing the wallpaper of nearly every room–mine was mustard yellow with scarlet worms–to peel away in great sheets which hung in forlorn flaps, while the paper from the ceilings hung down in great loose swags whose contents were probably best not thought about. (49)
Miss Mountjoy was the retired Librarian-in-Chief of the Bishop’s Lacey Free Library where, it was said, even the books had lived in fear of her. Now, with nothing but time on her hands, she had become a freelance holy terror. (132)
As usual, the mystery is almost beside the point, but the more of these Flavia DeLuce stories the read, the less I feel that way. I actually followed this mystery through to the end, which is very unusual for me, given my advanced case of mommy brain and my predilection for reading in short spurts of time. If I have a guilty pleasure (or a not-so-guilty-pleasure, since I’m trying not to do guilt much anymore), Flavia DeLuce is it. (Delacorte, 2011)
My other Flavia DeLuce reviews: