Flavia de Luce fans stand to applaud her return from her interminable trials in the tundra of Toronto. Unfortunately, her family barely recognizes her existence. “Like a pair of sick suns rising, (her sister) Daffy’s eyes came slowly up above the binding of her book. I could tell she hadn’t slept. “Well, well,” she said. “Look what the cat dragged in.”
“As if from some molten furnace, a new Flavia de Luce had been poured into (her) old shoes.” Now the chatelaine or mistress of Buckshaw, Flavia seeks her social level among adults, especially Cynthia, the vicar’s wife. Cynthia sends Flavia on a simple errand that quickly plunges the de Luce heiress into the realm of murder, veneered in witchcraft. With an appropriate malapropism, Mrs. Mullet warns, “there’s no good comes of meddlin’ the “Black Carts.”
To set the scene, the author borrowed his title–Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d–from an incantation first published in Macbeth. He lists a cat among his characters and no cats were injured in the telling of this Flavia mystery. The same can’t be said for chickens.
First, on the scene of an apparent homicide, Flavia attempts to unravel the mystery before Inspector Hewitt finds her out. This more independent Flavia tracks her clues to London where she meets her Canadian chemistry teacher and a member of the top secret “NIDE,” Mrs. Bannerman. From now on they are Mildred and Flavia.
Books, publishers, woodcarvers, child-stars, bones on the beach, winter fest, Horn Dance, and off-key singers muck through the trail of the murderer. Flavia courts danger in the graveyard and risks a running through. Flavia fans will always remember this volume for a particularly shocking revelation.
Like one of Flavia’s character who “left the thought hanging like a corpse from the gallows,” I leave the plot to discuss what matters most to me in an Alan Bradley novel. Although the mysteries weave and knot within a most fascinating skein of clues, it’s the polish that he rubs into his phrases that I most love. For example:
The vicar’s wife hears things that would peel the paint off battleships.
How many murderers have been undone by a blurt?
Since the British Lion was a kitten.
Her face glowed like a Sunday school stove.
Her voice hung shrill in the air like a shot partridge.
The kind of person who makes your pores snap shut and your gullet lower the drawbridge.
In the moonlight, even the kitchen garden glowed, the red brick of the old walls illuminating the dead beds with the cold, faded glory of silver.
Plumb wooden cherubs that simpered and leered at one another as they swarmed to their mischievous task.
The vicarage was especially damp and soggy, with an aura of boiled eggs and old books—a perfect setting for our encounter: dark brooding, and simply reeking of secrets and tales told in an earlier time.
Distant electric lights come on in other people’s homes, mere pinpricks in the gloom—mirages of happiness.
We seethed, like a mass of jellyfish, toward the station’s exit.
His office was like a cave carved into a cliff of books.
Stuck his little finger in his ear and wiggled it about a bit, as if fine-tuning it for truth.
A slapdash scrawl, as if the white heat of composition had overcome penmanship.
A kind of happy gloom.
It’s rayon, nitrocellulose by another name. It makes me feel explosive.
Someday, my prints will come.
Blackened bombsites still remained scattered round the church like rotting teeth in the mouth of some ancient duchess.
Finbar’s eyes swept slowly round her, like a lighthouse in the night.
Sad music began to ooze from the horn.
A book best read behind closed—or even locked doors.
One of London’s last remaining gas lamps flickered bravely and forlorn against the growing darkness.
As slick and soft and insincere as black velvet at a funeral.
Old Hanson was livid, but my father was incandescent.
I had a rather crush on Mother Nature. I did a bit of botanizing.
The wind moaned among the tombstones.
Some sleeps are washed with gold, and some with silver. Mine was molten lead.
This sampling should stoke the reader’s appetite for the hundreds of delights hidden throughout Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d. Alan Bradley leaves Flavia hanging precariously as the last page turns. What will become of her? How long must we wait until volume nine and a half?