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Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd: A Flavia de Luce Novel Hardcover – September 20, 2016
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“Mystery fans seeking novels of wit, an immersive English countryside setting, and rich characterizations will be rewarded with this newest entry in the award-winning series.”—Library Journal (starred review)
“There is such a thing as willing suspension of disbelief brought on by sheer outlandish charm, and that’s what [Alan] Bradley and some delicious writing have tapped.”—London Free Press
“Flavia’s first-person narration reveals her precocious intellect as well as her youthful vulnerability.”—Shelf Awareness
“Flavia is once again a fun, science-loving protagonist. . . . This series entry ends on a note that begs for the next story.”—Library Reads
“An eleven-year-old prodigy with an astonishing mind for chemistry and a particular interest in poisons.”—The Strand Magazine (Five of the Best Historical Heroines)
“Bradley’s preteen heroine comes through in the end with a series of deductions so clever she wants to hug herself. So will you.”—Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Alan Bradley is the New York Times bestselling author of many short stories, children’s stories, newspaper columns, and the memoir The Shoebox Bible. His first Flavia de Luce novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, received the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award, the Dilys Winn Award, the Arthur Ellis Award, the Agatha Award, the Macavity Award, and the Barry Award, and was nominated for the Anthony Award. His other Flavia de Luce novels are The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, A Red Herring Without Mustard, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Speaking from Among the Bones, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, and Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, as well as the ebook short story, “The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse.”
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Top Customer Reviews
Flavia arrives home daydreaming about a big welcome from her family only to find that her father is gravely ill and in the hospital, and she is not permitted to see him. Fortunately, she soon finds a very interesting body, a local carpenter and woodcarver hung upside down in a frame on the back of his door. The challenge of resolving what led to his death perks her up immensely. When a local man sympathetically comments that finding a body must have been a shock, Flavia thinks, “How could I tell the dear man that murder made me feel so gloriously alive?” Her investigations eventually involve the works of a famous children’s book author, a reputed witch, and, oh, yes, even a cat.
The plot of Thrice the Brinded Cat is quirky and interesting, but as in the other books, the outstanding feature is the voice of narrator Flavia, the precocious twelve-year-old budding chemist and observer of human nature, along with her supporting cast: her rather difficult family, the cook and housekeeper Mrs.Mullet, her father’s general factotum and all-round right-hand man Dogger , and her best and perhaps only friend---her trusty bicycle Gladys. Flavia is smart and irreverent and makes us smile, as when she comments about a local singer’s performance, “I found myself wishing I had thought to bring a firearm with me---although whether to put Carla out of her misery or to do away with myself, I had not quite yet decided.” As the series has developed and Flavia’s character has achieved more depth, she increasingly evokes sympathy rather than simply comedy. Flavia sees the approach of adulthood: ”Growing up is like that, I suppose: the strings fall away and you’re left standing on your own. It was sad in a way that is hard to describe.” She wants to reach out to others, like her little cousin Undine, but does not know how: “ I was seized by the sudden and inexplicable urge to sweep this lonely little girl up into my arms and hug her until the jelly came out, but luckily, I was able to suppress it. The deLuce blood is stronger, after all, than sentiment.”
If you are meeting Flavia for the first time, Bradley gives enough background that you will have a good time, but you WILL want to read the other books in the series, and there are enough mild spoilers that I would recommend starting with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.
With any popular series, readers approach a new book with trepidation and the hope that this will not be the last. As is his wont, the author ends Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mewed with a life-changing event that guarantees Flavia will not be facing a tranquil future. Whatever lies ahead for her, though, it is clear that Bradley and her legions of fans will be with her.
Flavia returns home from her brief stint at a Canadian boarding school to find only the faithful and sage Dogger waiting for her, with the news that her father is gravely ill. Colonel de Luce remains in hospital, and so is absent from the whole of the murder mystery that follows, as is Flavia's friend the vicar and several of the other reliable adults in Flavia's life, with Feely, Daphne, Dieter, and even Inspector Hewitt making only brief appearances. While it's refreshing to see Flavia developing satisfying female friendship with her former chemistry teacher and with Cynthia Richards, the vicar's wife, the reduction of all of the familiar cast except Dogger to shadowy figures feels two dimensional at best, barren at worst. Flavia herself seems to spend more time as a jaded 18 year old than a lonely 12 year old. The strange gush of maternal feeling twelve year old Flavia seems to periodically feel for the unctuous Undine seems out of character for anyone her age, let alone the fiercely independent and unsentimental Flavia, and is hopefully little more than another clumsy and temporary device to show that she herself is leaving childhood for adolescence. (But Bradley signals in many ways his reluctance to have the series go forward without an enfant terrible, so maybe I'll just have to keep my fingers crossed that he doesn't consign Flavia to fond foster-motherhood at 12 or 13 in order to focus on the younger, unappealing Undine.)
Much to her relief, Flavia quickly stumbles on both the corpse of a local fine art carpenter, and a local story of romance and tragic death some years earlier. At the center of the romantic story is a mysteriously dead author and children's poet, whose stories and verses about the charming ways and thrilling adventures of his toddler son are read at bedtime all over the world. Bradley does a wonderful job of catching the tone of AA Milne's verse from "When We Were Very Young" and "Now We Are Six" in original rhymes of his own, while his description of fictitious illustrations bring those of Milne's own son, Christopher Robin, forcefully to mind. As with the real Christopher Robin, the author's adult son had been estranged from the father who made a living telling stories of his innocent youth, resenting his father's coldness and even abusiveness once the son had grown past the age that readers were interested in.
I was surprised and a little annoyed at the transparent hijacking of the Milne family story almost whole cloth--with the additional inclusion of allegations of violent physical abuse, which appear to be fictitious (but which probably still would not have been included if Christopher Robin's daughter were still alive). Aside from being exploitative, it seemed like a lazy and cheap way to build a plot, among other objections.
But then it occurred to me that Bradley's Flavia was about to do to Bradley what Christopher Robin and his fictional reflection, Crispian, had 'done' to their fathers: Grow up, and leave them (as they saw it) with nothing charming to write about. The heartbreak of the fictional son (deftly drawn by Bradley as a combination of the real Christopher Robin Milne and a gentlemanly Boo Radley) and the ruthless condemnation of the fictional author father, take on a sort of disturbing poignancy when seen as Bradleys reflections on his relationship with his own character.
If that really is Bradley's fear, though, I devoutly I hope he'll get over it quickly now and do justice the beauty, power, tragi-comedy and vulnerability of a real girl entering into the crucible of adolescence. Flavia has been treading water for the last two books, since the originally planned six books cycle concluded with "The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches". If the remaining four books are to succeed, Flavia must be allowed to evolve, as children do, in both body and soul. In this book, Bradley, still couldn't quite bring himself to move Flavia meaningfully forward to a new stage of development. While he brought Flavia only three months forward in time, he ages her anywhere from a year to six years depending on the moment. He isn't willing (or fears that we aren't) for her to either settle into a new social status at home, or to do something completely different. So instead he takes us on a quiet, and repetitive. bicycle tour of most of Flavia's old haunts, plus a couple of jaunts to London in a new sleuthing partnership with her former chemistry teacher, while Flavia tries on different ages and attitudes, all under the shadow of Dogger's pronouncement that "life is changing, and not necessarily for the better." The change that comes at the end is bitterly disappointing, and strikes me as an unimaginative trope. But for better or worse the conclusion ensures that the next story will have to feature an altered Flavia. I'm crossing my fingers that, unlike the fathers in this play within a play, Bradley will be able to let her grow up naturally, and stick by her side while she does it.
The tone of the last 3 books is darker than the earlier stories. Flavia isn't just an exceptionally bright child who likes to mess around with dangerous chemicals and to live in her own fantastical world within her family's huge, rambling, decaying country house. Well, she is that, but there is more to her now, and it's not a fantasy she constructed or chose. The real world has, as people say, gotten real. She can't live as much inside her own head as she used to do.
I look forward to see how Flavia develops in the next stories.