Book 24: A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
I suppose that I should be cautious in admitting my infatuation with an 11-year-old girl. But there it is.
Fortunately, the girl, Flavia de Luce, is the fictional creation of Alan Bradley. A Red Herring Without Mustard is the third novel to feature Flavia, who is something of an amateur sleuth.
In this book, a vicious attack on a gypsy woman Flavia has befriended is followed by a murder, which revolves around a burglary ring that's stealing antiques, replacing them with knockoffs and selling the originals.
The plot is secondary. In these novels, a delicious twist on the English cozy, the crime -- generally murder -- serves largely as a device to engage young Flavia, who is a piece of work.
As mentioned, Flavia is an amateur sleuth. She's also a talented amateur chemist with her own laboratory in a wing of the family home. In a passage that captures Flavia perfectly, she's made nauseous by the odors emanating from a hospital cafeteria, but finds the smells wafting from the hospital morgue quite enchanting.
Flavia is also 11 years old to the core. She gets around on her trusty bicycle and is given to skinned knees and soiled dresses. She also delights in annoying her two older sisters, generally with some clever chemical concoction, but she's not above stealing the chocolates left on the doorstep by a besotted suitor.
Bradley's series is delightful. The three books -- a fourth has been announced -- have each been a thoroughly delicious read.