This is the third novel in a mystery series centered around eleven year old Flavia DeLuce, taking place in 1950s England. Flavia lives in the family home with her two older sisters, both whom she describes as torturers (usually, they have at least one or two sweet moments in a novel, but in this one, Ophelia and Daphne seemed to have declared all out war on Flavia), her slightly distant father, and Dogger, all around handy man. Additionally, there is a housekeeper/cook who takes care of the family on a daily basis, while Flavia's mother died during a mountain climbing incident when Flavia was only 1 (I keep waiting for there to be more to this than there is). Flavia is amateur chemist, having long ago claimed a deceased uncle's laboratory as her own, and spends much of her time conducting experiments and reading about poisons.
In this novel, Flavia accidentally sets fire to a gypsy woman's tent at a fair and as a result offers the woman use of the Palings, a field on the family land, for her caravan that night. Late that night/early the next morning, Flavia goes to visit the woman, and finds her beaten in her trailer. Flavia's quick response and fetching of the doctor saves the woman's live, but now Flavia has found a case to solve. Who beat the gypsy and why? What was that one woman talking about when she said the gypsy had stolen her child? Why did Flavia stumble upon Buckie in her house the same night the gypsy was beaten? Are these incidents related? And what is with that fishy smell?
Given that the main character is 11, the novels don't get too gruesome or dangerous and stay away from certain topics. Overall, they are sweet, slightly quirky fun. In this one, Flavia even makes a new friend of sorts. While I can definitely understand how Flavia would be an incredibly obnoxious and nosy little sister, but it seemed like her sisters' reactions in this novel went beyond annoyance and disdain. Then again, I don't know much about sibling relationships, and Flavia may have been taking things too seriously. A theme that has been running through the books is the family's financial problems due to Harriet's (the dead mother) lack of will, so I'm curious to see if the novels will simply continue showing the family in constraints or if Bradley will actually make the family relocate or come up with something else. Actually, three novels in, I'm ready for there to be a bit more time progression, so maybe by the next one Flavia will be 12. Otherwise, we're looking at an awful lot of incidents in such a small town in a small period of time.