I have finished the 53rd book for the book challenge. It was A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Mystery by Alan Bradley.
When the book opens, Flavia de Luce, with two dead bodies in her repertoire, is being tormented by her sister Daffy and Feeley in the cellars of their ancestral home of Buckshaw. She is being held captive, trussed in a potato sack while her sister badger her with taunts that she is a changeling brought by the pixies. When they hear someone approaching, they scatter and Flavia manages to escape her captors but she has been traumatized nonetheless.
That night the entire family goes to the St. Tancred Parish fête. Flavia goes into the Gypsy fortuneteller’s tent to have her fortune told. The old gypsy tells her that she sees a woman on a cold mountain who needs her help in returning home. Flavia is so distressed that she jumps up, upsetting the gypsy’s table and burning down the entire tent in the process. She drives the Gypsy’s horse and caravan to the Palings, an area on Buckshaw property where she can camp, says Flavia, where the Gypsy, called Fenella, has previously camped and her horse will have fresh grass. On the way there they pass Mrs. Bull who yells that the Gypsy stole her baby. They reach the Palings and Flavia turns out the horse and settles in Fenella. She tells the Gypsy she will be back tomorrow to check on her.
Later that night at Buckshaw, Flavia can’s sleep. She wakes at 2 a.m and goes to the drawing room only to find Brookie Harwood, a local poach in the drawing room, spouting some nonsense. She lets him out through the French doors and then goes out herself to check on Fenella. She finds Fenella in a pool of blood, unconscious, with her head smashed in. She races back home and calls Dr. Darby and Inspector Hewitt and goes back to the Palings. There is no sign of a weapon. An ambulance comes to take Fenella to the hospital in Hinley. She is still alive–barely. Inspector Hewitt tells Flavia that they will be around later on Sunday to take her fingerprints. She is quite excited.
Flavia returns to the caravan early on Sunday morning to see if she can learn anything further about the attack on Fenella. There she meets Fenella’s granddaughter from London, Porcelein Lee, who is wearing one of Fenella’s old dresses, having rinsed out her clothes. Flavia invites her to come home with her. As they are walking to Buckshaw across the lawn by the fountains, Flavia notices something on the fountain of Poseidon. As she moves closer, she sees that it is the body of Brookie Harwood, hung on the point of the trident of Poseidon. He is dead, with a lobster fork with the de Luce crest stuck in his nose and the back of his head smashed in. The two girls go back to Buckshaw. Flavia puts Porcelein in her room and then calls Inspector Hewitt to report Brookie Harwood’s death. This is her third dead body. She’s feeling quite proud of herself when it comes to dead bodies.
The Inspector tells Colonel de Luce that Flavia was instrumental in saving Fenella’s life with her quick thinking. The Colonel actually says he is very proud of Flavia. Flavia is shocked. He tells her that they will be around later to take her fingerprints. Sergeant Graves does come back later and fingerprints Flavia and also Feeley who is making cow eyes at Sergeant Graves. Porcelein spends the night in Flavia’s room but takes off the next morning.
Flavia has a talk with Mrs. Mullet and learns about the strange religious group called the Hobblers who believed in infant baptism by holding a baby by its heel and dunking them in the river at the Palings in the 17th and 18th centuries. Rumor has it that there are a few Hobblers still around and that they still conduct baptisms at the Palings. Flavia decides to visit Brookie Harwood’s mother Vanetta Harwood, the famous painter, at a neighboring village. She goes to the village and finds his mother. His mother realizes who Flavia is because she resembles her mother Harriet. She had painted a portrait of Harriet with her three girls just before she left on her mountaineering trip in Tibet. It is finished but had never been picked up. It is a beautiful portrait, all paid for. Mrs. Harwood is sadden by her son’s death but knows he was involved in unsavory activities. Her companion Ursula is not very friendly.
Flavia returns to Bishop’s Lacey and goes to the home of Miss Montjoy. She notice a smell of fish, from the castor oil that Miss Montjoy takes. Brookie Harwood rented Miss Montjoy’s coach house and Flavia goes into it and finds the fire iron dogs from Buckshaw there. But she has just seen the fire iron dogs at Buckshaw? How can they be at two places? He has other antiques. Apparently besides poaching he had been in the antiques business. A van belonging to Ed Sampson is outside the coach house. Flavia goes to the antiques dealer in town, the Pettibones. They are just closing but she manages to get in and finds another set of fire iron dogs there! She decided to pay Ed Sampson a visit.
She runs across Colin Prout in the lane. Colin had been bullied by Brookie Harwood at the St. Tancred’s Parish fête. Brookie had bullied him at other times as well. Colin is well rid of Brookie. Flavia talks to Colin. Colin seems rather nervous. But Flavia can’t get Colin to talk to her. She goes back to the Palings. In the river she finds Fenella’s crystal ball. She knows this was used to bash in Fenella’s head. She gives the crystal ball to Inspector Hewitt.
A body is found buried in the Palings, says Mrs. Mullet. The rumor is that it is the baby that was supposed to have been stolen by the Gypsy. But Flavia has figured out that Mrs. Bull and Miss Mountjoy and some others are really Hobblers. They were having a Hobblers’ baptism of the baby when the baby slipped and fell into the river and drowned. This baby was then buried at the Palings and Mrs. Bull told her husband that the Gypsy had stolen her baby. Tom Bull had bashed in Fenella’s head with her crystal ball.
Porcelein comes back to Buckshaw. She tells Flavia that Fenella regained consciousness and that Fenella told her that Flavia attacked her. She is angry with Flavia and she is returning to London. Flavia decides to pay Ed Sampson a visit and also to go to see Fenella herself. She travels to East Finley to the scrap yard where Ed Sampson works and breaks into his house. He is apparently fabricating metal things such as the fire irons. Someone has followed her. It is Dieter, the former German POW. Feeley has sent him to make sure Flavia doesn’t get into trouble. Dieter takes her home. Then Flavia goes the next morning to Hinley to the hospital to see Fenella. She is still unconscious. Dr. Darby comes in while she is there. She is getting better. Fenella starts to come around. She tells Flavia that a man, a Red Bull, struck her down. Flavia doesn’t understand.
Flavia returns to Buckshaw. Porcelein is there. She is sorry she lied to Flavia. Fenella did not regain consciousness and never said Flavia attacked her. She doesn’t know why she did it. The Colonel discovers Porcelein in Flavia’s room and treats her like an honored guest. They have a lovely dinner, where Porcelein in dressed in one of Harriet’s dresses. Later that night, Flavia and Porcelein go into the cellars to explore. They hear noises and have only a candelabra so they return to their room. Later, Flavia decides to explore the cellars further. She takes a torch and still can hear the noise she heard before; she goes further and finds a gate and there is Colin Prout on the other side. He is tied to something. He has a key to the gate, but it is in his pocket. Flavia goes back out of the cellars and goes to the Poseidon fountain and finds the toe of Poseidon where he has told her the hidden door to the passage is. She opens it and finds the passage to Colin. She unties him and finds the key, just as Tom Bull is entering the passage. It is he who tied up Colin. They open the gate and then quickly close it but drop the torch and then it breaks. They are lost! Bur suddenly they see light! It is Porcelein and Dogger who have come to look for them and Inspector Hewitt and his team have come to take Tom Bull away. Colin is also taken away for murdering Brookie Harwood. They may take into account the bullying of Colin by Brookie and the fact that Colin says it was an accident.
Flavia goes to collect the portrait of Harriet and her children from Vanetta Harwood. She presents it to her father to hang in the drawing room, but one day finds it hanging in her laboratory.
This was another wonderful Flavia de Luce mystery. Flavia discovers her third dead body; dead bodies fascinate her. She is still in love with poisons, but they don’t figure as prominently in this story as the previous two. After the first skirmish with her sisters, she does get on a bit better with her sisters in this book. They are impressed with her new friend Porcelein and also impressed that she helped to save someone’s life. But through it all, Flavia’s humor comes through. And we are left smiling at her antics.