Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Red Herring Without Mustard, by Alan Bradley

The third book in Bradley's Flavia de Luce series finds our eleven-year-old chemistry-whiz heroine investigating an assault on a gypsy and the murder of the prime suspect. Meanwhile, her father is coping with his grief over the loss of Flavia's mother and the financial constraints of maintaining the huge ancestral home; and Flavia's two older sisters are busy tormenting her.

As in the previous two books, the mystery and its solution come second to the English village atmosphere and the wonderfully drawn world that is Flavia's point of view. I found that this book suffered a little more from gratuitous exclamation points – Flavia seems to be getting excited over an awful lot of things – and the author's seeming need to make Flavia more poignant was hit-or-miss for me. Her sudden desire to make friends, and sorrow at her sisters' cruelties, may be realistic but were largely absent from the first two books and made them more escapist fare.

A lovely book, still. And truth about human interactions and loneliness isn't a bad thing, even when we least want to face it.

Favorite lines: “I was unwilling to share with anyone the picking up of the pieces.”

“Until now, my fury had always been like those jolly Caribbean carnivals....a noisy explosion of color and heat that wilted steadily as the day went on. But now it had suddenly become an icy coldness: a frigid wasteland in which I stood unapproachable.”


An almost empty house , cold as only an English house can be, clogged with silent grief. Loved ones turning on you without reason, and causing more pain than strangers ever could. Not unfamiliar territory, this.

Oh heavens! The self-pity! My house is 850 square feet and filled with 180 pounds of dog. I am not exactly wandering Victorian-novel-dramatic through echoing halls here. It is, however, cold.

It is one of the two times of year (the other being that eternal slog through bone-deep chills which is a New England spring) when it almost seems to be warmer outside than it is inside. The house does, technically, have the ability to be heated, but though I was not raised in New England I come from two hundred years of Puritan stock, and I believe that to turn the heat up higher than about 55 degrees is to let my character slip into degeneracy. 60 degrees, and the next thing you know I'd be eating cheese, or drinking caffeine, or something equally self-indulgent. It doesn't bear thinking about.

My one concession to sleeping alone is to tip the thermostat into the 57-ish range, and tell myself I'm doing it for the dogs, since the bedroom no longer has the body heat and exhalations of four creatures to warm it through the night. Not that he was here half the nights. He was gone long before he left.

The aforementioned Puritan genetics mean that I am profoundly uncomfortable with the detour into self-pity this blog is all too likely to take. Let's face it, I've had a rotten year. But the surgeries are done, the radiation is over, and I have no doubts about the divorce proceedings. And there are 67 books on my to-read list. So, while there will be a lot of emotional processing here, there will also be a lot of hope.

Next up: Dead Souls, by Ian Rankin.

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