I should be taking notes about how books get to my "to read" list. Books achieve standing because a someone familiar recommends them, because I're read an approving review, or because I've enjoyed reading another book by an author.
There was this mysterious entry on the list: A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley. I don't know how it got on my list, but somehow my system failed me.
On the other hand, maybe it's good for me to read a book I don't like once in awhile as a contrast to books I like.
This novel is subtitled, "A Flavia de Luce Novel." Flavia de Luce is a precocious eleven-year-old who solves crimes. She's as obnoxious as the Sheldon Cooper ("I know everything.") character on television's The Big Bang Theory, but without comic double takes. She's as carelessly daring as [Sue Grafton's series heroine] but without a gun.
The setting is a run down country house in post-WWII rural Britain. A widower with three daughters whose most prominent characteristic seems to be his ability to write articles for a stamp collectors' magazine. Flavia is the youngest of the three daughters. The role of the older two seems to be confined to tormenting their younger sister.
There are clever thieves abroad in the countryside. A gypsy woman is murdered and her niece is attacked. Although the local police seem to be on scene and investigating, the pre-adolescent Flavia is the only one really able to identify suspects and locate clues.
Who reads this stuff? It's not Harry Potter fantasy. It's thin treacle poured over gruel. Literate eleven-year-olds aren't about to dive into the small type and dense text. Young readers aren't going to pick up this 400-page book about their little sister. Teenagers or young adults aren't going to spend time reading a book with no vampires or zombies. It's certainly not for adults like me. It's not a romance. The plot is inventive, but in my mind it's wasted on the characters and the setting. The writing is descriptive of both setting and action, but I never cared about either. Or the characters.
So why did I read it? That's a good question. If I'd bought it, I'd be sending it back to the author with a request for a refund. I read it because the weekend was rainy and windy. Television reception was awful and there really wasn't anything to watch. I'd finished two other books. I plowed on thoughtlessly. What a waste. I should have re-read the old Zane Grey that's on the shelf at the lake.
Do you have some thoughts about A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley? Write and tell this little bit of the world -- especially if you found reasons to like it. It is part of a series. Somebody must like them.
- Nicki's review at Fyrefly's Book Blog
- Helen's review at She Reads Novels
- Swapna Krishna's review at S. Krishna's Books