Jana's Reviews > A Red Herring Without Mustard

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
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Sep 21, 2013

really liked it
bookshelves: absent-parent
Read in January, 2012

A Red Herring Without Mustard

I know that one isn’t supposed to excessively include quotes in a book review, but I don’t consider my incoherent ramblings about my enjoyment of the books I’ve read to be proper book reviews anyway, so what the hell.

I easily dove back into Flavia’s world with this one. Admittedly, the mystery and plausibility of events might be a bit vague or construed, but I don’t care. I just like to follow Flavia around and listen to her musings, because they are highly enjoyable. I think her characterisations are simply brilliant, here one of her oldest sister Ophelia:

“It was Ophelia, the older of my two sisters. Feely was 17, and ranked herself right up there with the Blessed Virgin Mary, although the chief difference between them, I’m willing to bet, is that the BVM doesn’t spend 23 hours a day peering at herself in a looking glass while picking away at her face with a pair of tweezers. […] Feely made a snatch at my ear, but I sidestepped her easily. By sheer necessity, the lightning dodge had become one of my specialties. […] As always, she had left her spectacles at home out of vanity, but her inattentiveness might simply have been lack of interest. For all practical purposes, Feely’s enthusiasm stopped where her skin ended.” (pages 6 to 7)

Flavia’s observations of everyday life are equally amusing. Here her musings on cod-liver oil:

“My experience of cod-liver oil was vast. Much of my life had been spent fleeing the oncoming Mrs. Mullett, who, with uncorked bottle and a spoon the size of a garden spade, pursued me up and down the corridors and staircases of Buckshaw – even in my dreams.
Who in their right mind would want to swallow something that looked like discarded engine oil and was squeezed out of fish livers that had been left out to rot in the sun? The stuff was used in the tanning of leather, and I couldn’t help wondering what it would do to one’s insides. […] ‘No! No!’ I would shriek. ‘No acid! Please don’t make me drink acid!’” (page 136)


Sometimes ignorance is bliss indeed! I certainly remember the vile stuff, but had I known these facts at the age my mother forced me to swallow spoonfuls of it, that would certainly have caused a deep rift between my mother and me. :)

One last quote to illustrate Flavia’s knack for creating very vivid comparisons:

“I paused for a moment to stare up at the Poseidon fountain. Old Neptune, as the Romans called him, all muscles and tummy, was gazing unconcernedly off into the distance, like someone who had broken wind at a banquet and is trying to pretend it wasn’t him.” (page 196)


This book kept me entertained until its very end. I thought there were a number of loose ends, but I don’t demand from these novels that everything makes sense to me. It had my grinning and giggling happily and that was all that counted for me.


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