“New Flavia de Luce book!! Whoop Whoop!”
A friend of mine recently posted this to her Facebook status, and I have to agree. I don’t think there is another character like Flavia, a twelve-year-old with a passion for chemistry and mystery, living in 1950s England. “Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d” by Canadian author Alan Bradley can be classified as a cozy mystery, but along the same lines as Miss Marple being a cozy – it’s so much more than that!
I suppose if you wanted to compare Flavia to characters in other novels the closest I could come to would be Encyclopedia Brown, living in an adult world where calamities are commonplace. Intellectually, Flavia is much older than her twelve years, although her emotional intelligence is lacking. In the latest of the series she discovers a body hanging upside down. Rather than shrieking, fainting, or behaving in any manner that could be expected of one who has come across a corpse, she calmly, almost coldly, examines the scene and the body, so that she might unravel the mystery. Then she calls the police. She sees herself as an equal partner with the police and that they could not get by without her help. In this eighth book in the series, her assumptions on this matter prove to be true yet again.
Other characters who populate the novel, other than her father, sisters, and the household staff do not treat Flavia like a child. Her mother, long-dead, whose body has recently been recovered, puts an insane burden on Flavia: she bequeaths Flavia the family estate, over her husband and two older daughters. Because of the time period, Flavia and her family are also dealing with the after-effects of the war. Flavia’s father and his personal servant Dogger, were imprisoned in a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp. Both deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, and Flavia has had to gently care for each of the men as their nightmares invade their waking hours. Her sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, have taken sibling rivalry and cruelty to new heights. As they are Flavia’s chief companions, they shape her perceptions and feed her false information. Flavia does not have friends her age, and when she attempts to befriend another girl, she herself finds it disingenuous. One could say that her best friend is Gladys, her bicycle. She treats Gladys as one might treat a horse. Flavia is both precocious and tragic.
Flavia has just returned from Canada to England, after being thrown out of her boarding school. Expecting her family to greet her upon her arrival, she is met instead by Dogger only. Her father is ill, in the hospital – too weak for visitors. To cheer herself up, she runs an errand for the minister’s wife and becomes embroiled in the mystery of the murdered wood-carver.
I find that in all Alan Bradley’s novels in the Flavia de Luce series the mysteries are not as important as Flavia herself, with hints of an overarching story. The reader is left with questions, not about who the murderer is or how or why, but about Flavia herself and how she will triumph over the next obstacle that life throws at her. And life throws a lot at her.
You can place a hold for “Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d” online, or come see us at the Library and we can place the hold for you. If there is something you think the Library should purchase, let us know. We do our best to keep up with new releases and best sellers.
*** Caroline Vandriel is the Executive Director of the Sylvan Lake Municipal Library and a regular contributor to the Sylvan Lake News through her book review.***