About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Friday, August 26, 2016

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley – The third Flavia de Luce mystery opens with a flourish. Flavia is having her fortune told by an elderly gypsy woman just outside the local Anglican church, St. Tancred, and resenting the extra shilling demanded for an explanation of the woman the gypsy sees on the mountain. Flavia, the daughter, anxious for any possible word of her late mother, Harriet, wins out over Flavia, the scientific skeptic and pays the shilling. The gypsy explains:

“She is trying to come home,” she said. “This …. woman …. is trying to come home from the cold. She wants you to help her.”

A shocked Flavia leaps to her feet knocking over the table and candle and setting the tent alight.

When the smoke has settled Flavia makes her way inside to see how the aged gypsy, Fenella, is faring and offer an apology. Fenella is exhausted. As usual, the 11 year old Flavia decisively takes action inviting Fenella to stay on a meadow, the Palings, that is a part of the family estate, Buckshaw. Flavia of course accompanies her on the horse drawn wagon to the Palings.

On the way there is a confrontation with Mrs. Bull that Flavia deflects with some clever untruths. Fenella is impressed:

“So,” she said, suddenly animated, as if the encounter with Mrs. Bull had warmed her blood, “you lie like us. You lie like a Gypsy.”

“Is that good?” I asked. “Or bad.”

Her answer was slow in coming.

“It means you will live a long life.”

Flavia, after leaving the weary Gypsy, heads home. Thinking of something to eat, for she has missed lunch, Flavia lets her guard down as she enters the house and is assailed by her sisters, Daffy and Feely, who bundle her downstairs so they can humiliate and interrogate her on a missing brooch.

After a family parley the de Luce family retires for the evening.

Late into the night, close to morning, Flavia leaves Buckshaw to visit Fenella and finds her badly injured. Realizing her limited Girl Guide first aid is inadequate Flavia pursues help. 

When Fenella is taken away to the hospital Flavia happily realizes there will be another criminal investigation by the esteemed Inspector Hewitt. While he professes to not need her assistance she is undeterred.

Riding her trusty bike, Gladys, Flavia tirelessly rides around the country diligently seeking information.

The book sees the greatest use of Flavia’s chemistry acumen. She is constantly reflecting on the chemical composition of items:

Red blood cells, I remembered from my chemical experiments, were really not much more than a happy soup of water, sodium, potassium, chloride, and phosphorus.

While she would prefer science solve all she learns an obscure, supposedly extinct, religious sect, the Hobblers, may be involved.

Back at Buckshaw, it appears ever more clear that her father is on the verge of losing the ancestral home because of succession duties on Harriet’s estate.

I liked A Red Herring Without Mustard as much as the first book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and much better than The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag.

Flavia is at the forefront of A Red Herring Without Mustard and has no difficulty carrying the plot.

While a disciplined scientific thinker in the investigation she is also a sad little girl who desperately misses her mother and longs to know more of her.

Almost innately she earns her father’s quiet approval by a “stiff upper lip” approach to life. While Flavia is proud of his admiration it is a way of life that prevents a father from hugging a vulnerable 11 year old daughter.

I look forward to reading the fourth in the series.



  1. I'm glad you enjoyed this one, Bill. I think Bradley does a really effective job of portraying Flavia with both her strengths and her vulnerability. I think Bradley handles the side issues and sub-plots really well, too.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. I admire Bradley's depiction of Flavia as vulnerable in a way I would expect of an 11 year old.

  2. I agree with you that this one was much stronger than the 2nd book. I love this series, and Flavia is such a wonderful, complex character.

    1. Melanie: Thanks for the comment. I continue to be amazed by Flavia.

  3. I haven't read this series, but if I do, I'll start with this one. But the father's demeanor towards his daughter is making me sad. Oh, why, do some men think that's what fathers are supposed to be like? Thankfully, most fathers have moved beyond that behavior these days in real life.

    1. Kathy D.: Thanks for the comment. I think it would be best to read the first, skip the second and then read this book. The English reserve described in the book is quite forbidding.