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Alan Bradley - A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel

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A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel
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“Sophisticated, series-launching … It’s a rare pleasure to follow Flavia as she investigates her limited but boundless-feeling world.”

—Entertainment Weekly (A-)

THE MOST AWARD-WINNING BOOK

OF ANY YEAR!

The SWEETNESS at the

BOTTOM of the PIE

THE FIRST NOVEL IN THE FLAVIA DE LUCE SERIES

BY ALAN BRADLEY

WINNER:

Macavity Award for Best First Mystery Novel

Barry Award for Best First Novel

Agatha Award for Best First Novel

Dilys Winn Award

Arthur Ellis Award for Best Novel

Spotted Owl Award for Best Novel

CWA Debut Dagger Award

“If ever there was a sleuth who’s bold, brilliant, and, yes, adorable, it’s Flavia de Luce.”

—USA Today

Acclaim for Alan Bradley and the Flavia de Luce novels

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

“Endlessly entertaining … The author deftly evokes the period, but Flavia’s sparkling narration is the mystery’s chief delight.”

—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Brisk, funny and irrepressible, Flavia is distinctly uncute, and the cozy village setting has enough edges to keep suspicions sharp.”

—Houston Chronicle

“Bradley takes everything you expect and subverts it, delivering a smart, irreverent, unsappy mystery.”

—Entertainment Weekly

“Like its heroine, the novel is spiky, surprising fun.”

—Parade

“Bradley has once again created an engaging, whimsical, twisting tale that rewards readers as much with its style and background as it does with the central investigation.… Compellingly larger than life.”

—Edmonton Journal

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

“Alan Bradley’s marvelous book The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a fantastic read, a winner. Flavia walks right off the page and follows me through my day. I can hardly wait for the next book. Bravo!”

—LOUISE PENNY, bestselling author of The Brutal Telling and Bury Your Dead

“A wickedly clever story, a dead-true and original voice, and an English country house in the summer: Alexander McCall Smith meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Please, please, Mr. Bradley, tell me we’ll be seeing Flavia again soon?”

—LAURIE R. KING, bestselling author of God of the Hive

“Utterly charming! Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce proves to be one of the most precocious, resourceful, and, well, just plain dangerous heroines around. Evildoers—and big sisters—beware!”

—LISA GARDNER, bestselling author of Live to Tell

“Impressive as a sleuth and enchanting as a mad scientist, Flavia is most endearing as a little girl who has learned to amuse herself in a big lonely house.”

—MARILYN STASIO, The New York Times Book Review

“Only those who dislike precocious young heroines with extraordinary vocabulary and audacious courage can fail to like this amazingly entertaining book. Expect more from the talented Bradley.”

—Booklist (starred review)

“A delightful new sleuth. A combination of Eloise and Sherlock Holmes … fearless, cheeky, wildly precocious.”

—The Boston Globe

“An elegant mystery.”

—The Plain Dealer

BY ALAN BRADLEY

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag

A Red Herring Without Mustard is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Copyright © 2011 by Alan Bradley

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of The Random House Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

DELACORTE PRESS is a registered trademark of Random House, Inc., and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.

Map by Simon Sullivan

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Bradley, C. Alan

A red herring without mustard : a Flavia de Luce novel / Alan Bradley.

p. cm.

eISBN: 978-0-440-33986-1

1. Girls—England—Fiction. 2. Murder—Investigation—Fiction. I. Title.

PR9199.4.B7324R43 2011

813′.6–dc22

2010042029

www.bantamdell.com

Jacket design: Joe Montgomery

v3.1

For John and Janet Harland

 … a cup of ale without a wench, why, alas, ’tis like an egg without salt or a red herring without mustard.

THOMAS LODGE AND ROBERT GREENE

A Looking Glasse, for London and Englande (1592)

Contents

Cover

Other Books by This Author

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Epigraph

Map

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Note to the Reader

Acknowledgments

About the Author

ONE

“YOU FRIGHTEN ME,” THE Gypsy said. “Never have I seen my crystal ball so filled with darkness.”

She cupped her hands around the thing, as if to shield my eyes from the horrors that were swimming in its murky depths. As her fingers gripped the glass, I thought I could feel ice water trickling down inside my gullet.

At the edge of the table, a thin candle flickered, its sickly light glancing off the dangling brass hoops of the Gypsy’s earrings, then flying off to die somewhere in the darkened corners of the tent.

Black hair, black eyes, black dress, red-painted cheeks, red mouth, and a voice that could only have come from smoking half a million cigarettes.

As if to confirm my suspicions, the old woman was suddenly gripped by a fit of violent coughing that rattled her crooked frame and left her gasping horribly for air. It sounded as though a large bird had somehow become entangled in her lungs and was flapping to escape.

“Are you all right?” I asked. “I’ll go for help.”

I thought I had seen Dr. Darby in the churchyard not ten minutes earlier, pausing to have a word or two at each stall of the church fête. But before I could make a move, the Gypsy’s dusky hand had covered mine on the black velvet of the tabletop.

“No,” she said. “No … don’t do that. It happens all the time.”

And she began to cough again.

I waited it out patiently, almost afraid to move.

“How old are you?” she said at last. “Ten? Twelve?”

“Eleven,” I said, and she nodded her head wearily as though she’d known it all along.

“I see—a mountain,” she went on, almost strangling on the words, “and the face—of the woman you will become.”

In spite of the stifling heat of the darkened tent, my blood ran cold. She was seeing Harriet, of course!

Harriet was my mother, who had died in a climbing accident when I was a baby.

The Gypsy turned my hand over and dug her thumb painfully into the very center of my palm. My fingers spread—and then curled in upon themselves like the toes of a chicken’s severed foot.

She took up my left hand. “This is the hand you were born with,” she said, barely glancing at the palm, then letting it fall and picking up the other. “… and this is the hand you’ve grown.”

She stared at it distastefully as the candle flickered. “This broken star on your Mount of Luna shows a brilliant mind turned in upon itself—a mind that wanders the roads of darkness.”

This was not what I wanted to hear.

“Tell me about the woman you saw on the mountain,” I said. “The one I shall become.”

She coughed again, clutching her colored shawl tightly about her shoulders, as though wrapping herself against some ancient and invisible winter wind.

“Cross my palm with silver,” she demanded, sticking out a grubby hand.

“But I gave you a shilling,” I said. “That’s what it says on the board outside.”

“Messages from the Third Circle cost extra,” she wheezed. “They drain the batteries of my soul.”

I almost laughed out loud. Who did this old hag think she was? But still, she seemed to have spotted Harriet beyond the veil, and I couldn’t let skepticism spoil even half a chance of having a few words with my dead mother.

I dug for my last shilling, and as I pressed the coin into her hand, the Gypsy’s dark eyes, suddenly as bright as a jackdaw’s, met mine.

“She is trying to come home,” she said. “This … woman … is trying to come home from the cold. She wants you to help her.”

I leapt to my feet, bashing the bottom of the table with my bare knees. It teetered, then toppled to one side as the candle slid off and fell among a tangle of dusty black hangings.

At first there was a little wisp of black smoke as the flame turned blue, then red, then quickly orange. I looked on in horror as it spread along the drapery.

In less time than it takes to tell, the entire tent was in flames.

I wish I’d had the presence of mind to throw a wet cloth over the Gypsy’s eyes and lead her to safety, but instead I bolted—straight through the circle of fire that was the entranceway—and I didn’t stop until I reached the coconut pitch, where I stood panting behind a canvas drape, trying to catch my breath.

Someone had brought a wind-up gramophone to the churchyard, from which the voice of Danny Kaye was issuing, made nauseously tinny by the throat of the machine’s painted horn:

Oh I’ve got a lov-ely bunch of coconuts.

There they are a-standin’ in a row …

I looked back at the Gypsy’s tent just in time to see Mr. Haskins, St. Tancred’s sexton, and another man whom I didn’t recognize heave a tub of water, apples and all, onto the flames.

Half the villagers of Bishop’s Lacey, or so it seemed, stood gaping at the rising column of black smoke, hands over mouths or fingertips to cheeks, and not a single one of them knowing what to do.

Dr. Darby was already leading the Gypsy slowly away towards the St. John’s Ambulance tent, her ancient frame wracked with coughing. How small she seemed in the sunlight, I thought, and how pale.

“Oh, there you are, you odious little prawn. We’ve been looking for you everywhere.”

It was Ophelia, the older of my two sisters. Feely was seventeen, 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 twenty-three hours a day peering at herself in a looking glass while picking away at her face with a pair of tweezers.

With Feely, it was always best to employ the rapid retort: “How dare you call me a prawn, you stupid sausage? Father’s told you more than once it’s disrespectful.”

Feely made a snatch at my ear, but I sidestepped her easily. By sheer necessity, the lightning dodge had become one of my specialties.

“Where’s Daffy?” I asked, hoping to divert her venomous attention.

Daffy was my other sister, two years older than me, and at thirteen already an accomplished co-torturer.

“Drooling over the books. Where else?” She pointed with her chin to a horseshoe of trestle tables on the churchyard grass, upon which the St. Tancred’s Altar Guild and the Women’s Institute had joined forces to set up a jumble sale of secondhand books and assorted household rubbish.

Feely had seemed not to notice the smoking remnants of the Gypsy’s tent. 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 enthusiasms stopped where her skin ended.

“Look at these,” she said, holding a set of black earrings up to her ears. She couldn’t resist showing off. “French jet. They came from Lady Trotter’s estate. Glenda says they were quite fortunate to get a tanner for them.”

“Glenda’s right,” I said. “French jet is nothing but glass.”

It was true: I had recently melted down a ghastly Victorian brooch in my chemical laboratory, and found it to be completely silicaceous. It was unlikely that Feely would ever miss the thing.

“English jet is so much more interesting,” I said. “It’s formed from the fossilized remains of monkey-puzzle trees, you see, and—”

But Feely was already walking away, lured by the sight of Ned Cropper, the ginger-haired potboy at the Thirteen Drakes who, with a certain muscular grace, was energetically tossing wooden batons at the Aunt Sally. His third stick broke the wooden figure’s clay pipe clean in two, and Feely pulled up at his side just in time to be handed the teddy bear prize by the madly blushing Ned.

“Anything worth saving from the bonfire?” I asked Daffy, who had her nose firmly stuck in what, judging by its spotty oxidized pages, might have been a first edition of Pride and Prejudice.

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