A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I found this book as one of the audio eBook downloads at my local library. Normally, I would not start with the third book in the series. The main character is Flavia, and eleven-year-old girl who loves chemistry and the mystery of her town. Her childhood curiosity gets her immediately involved in the investigation of an attack on a gypsy woman and subsequent murders.
I never really got into this book. I found my mind wandering while I listened, even though the only other thing competing for attention was the morning and evening commute. As I reflected on the book I felt that the characters, especially Flavia, were well developed and had unique voices. The story was well written and the descriptions through the eyes of a young child were priceless.
So why didn't it hold my attention? I've decided that the main problem was the stakes. Other than curiosity, there are no real stakes for Flavia in solving the mystery. The people who are attacked or die are people she doesn't really know or care about. The "oh my, that's interesting" gambit just doesn't play well for an entire novel. At least not for me.
The other problem, less major than the stakes, was that the plot was prone to tangents making it difficult to know what was truly important. There were characters introduced that only played minor parts in the story but had names and backgrounds I needed to hear about. There was a lot of discussion of things Flavia found interesting that I never really understood why I should find them interesting. It was distracting and took away from the overall plot and intrigue of the story.
After the book ended I still felt like it was an enjoyable read. Flavia was a wonderful character. However, I'm not impressed enough to go back and read the other two books.