Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d
Whenever anyone asks what my favorite mystery series is, I respond, without hesitation, the Flavia de Luce series! Set in the early 1950s, the books center around the activities of Flavia de Luce, a pigtailed, twelve-year old with a love of chemistry (poisons in particular) and an uncanny knack for discovering dead bodies. The series has thoroughly captivated me. But while I enjoyed Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, it’s not my favorite of the set, having a slightly different tone and a bit less humor. At times the plot actually dragged.
At the end of the last book — As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust – Flavia had been banished from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Toronto and was heading back to England. Flavia fantasized about a warm welcome from her father, two sisters, and beloved Dogger (her father’s general factotum). Instead, only Dogger greeted her at the train station with news that her father was in hospital with pneumonia and cannot have visitors. Flavia then learns her detested younger cousin Undine is still living at Buckshsaw, and her beloved chicken Esmerelda was killed to make broth for her sick father.
Desperate to escape her older sisters and Undine, Flavia hops on her trusty bicycle and ends up on a mission from the vicar’s wife to deliver a letter to a reclusive wood carver. But being Flavia, even such a simple errand goes awry when she discovers the wood carver’s body, murdered in a particularly unusual fashion. And being Flavia, she spends a lot of time examining the crime scene rather than reporting it to the police.
The thought of a new investigation seems to revive her, and allows her to avoid thinking about her father’s illness. Flavia has always roamed far and wide, spending a lot of time by herself. This time she pretty much comes and goes as she pleases, even going to London several times by herself to follow up on clues. With her father in the hospital, the seemingly minimal structure of Buckshaw – periodic family meals and time spent listening to radio shows – is gone. And her sisters seem preoccupied for the most part with their own business, so that even they don’t pester Flavia as much and she feels a lot more alone than usual.
There seem to be fewer funny moments and more sad or serious ones than I’ve normally found in these stories. In the past, Flavia’s father – or Inspector Hewitt – has been around to put the brakes on her activities. This time she is largely free of – or seemingly ignored by – adults, and I found myself feeling sorry for her at times, something that’s rarely happened before.
The tone and emphasis of the book feels different. Flavia remarks to herself several times that she’s changed, noting that she has to change to eventually become mistress of Buckshaw, her unexpected inheritance from her mother. In previous books, she spent a lot of time plotting against her sisters; that doesn’t happen this time. The focus is strictly on the mystery, almost as a way for Flavia to ignore how sick her father is, and the mystery of the wood carver’s death did hold some surprises for me. For a recluse, we learn he had a fairly complicated network of acquaintances, both past and present.
Without giving away spoilers, it’s clear at the end of the book that Flavia – and the series – is once again at a crossroads. This time I’m not certain where it will go. While I didn’t enjoy Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d as much as most of the others in the series, I’ll definitely be back for the next instalment.