It’s amazing what the discovery of a corpse can do for one’s spirits.
With Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd, Alan Bradley brings motherless Flavia de Luce back home to Bishop Lacey in time for Christmas. But instead of being greeted with smiles and hugs by her family, she is met on the docks of Southhampton by the Colonel’s friend Dogger, who informs her that her father is ill and in the hospital.
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd takes its title from the witches spell in MacBeth: “Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d, Thrice and once the hedge-pig whin’d…Double, double toil and trouble; fire, burn and cauldron, bubble.” The tea-stained cover is irresistible, depicting a striped cat clutching a holly branch. And the novel is replete with allusions to
Arsenic and Old Lace, Sherlock Holmes, Frankenstein, and the poem “Miss T.” Bradley’s devoted detective is precocious, high-spirited, guileless, earnest, and curious, especially when she stumbles upon a dead body. The vicar’s wife sends her on an errand to Mr. Sambridge, whom she discovers hanging upside-down strapped to a door. With no telephone available and no time to waste, Flavia rises to the occasion that relieves her from the pain of her lackluster homecoming.
It seems that the discovery of a corpse is able to inspire Flavia, who has been in a crisis ever since she left Miss Bodycoote’s Academy.
For some time now, I had not been myself. Much as I hated to admit it, the events of the past several months had shaken me rather badly. I was not at all the Flavia de Luce I had once been. Whether that was a bad thing or a good one remained to be seen, but until I managed to work it out, the feeling was one of bearing an enormous invisible burden: the weight of the world. I want to know who I am before it is too late—before I am no longer the same person—before I become someone different. Although there are days when this seems a furious race against time, there are others when it seems to matter not a tinker’s curse.
With a chemistry lab in her bedroom and a death to investigate, Flavia has little patience for her cousin Undine, who enjoys pretending to be Tarzan swinging from ropes rigged up by Dogger to keep her from being homesick. The mystery of who killed Mr. Sambridge and why Carla Sherrington-Cameron’s copy of
Hobbyhorse House was on his nightstand might be closer to being solved if Carla can answer a few questions--which is why Flavia gives in to Undine’s request that she accompany her to the Advent concert where Carla will be performing.
Bradley writes here with such cleverness and ease that the reader never questions his incantation--and they should because the novel works well for young adult readers who aren’t hoping for gracefully constructed prose or a delicious mystery. His young protagonist leaves us with a peek into a small village in England in the 1950s that’s as nostalgic as the corner barbershop, with lots of time spent riding her bicycle on icy wintry roads.
Nevertheless, Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd is unique: particular, uncommon with the secrets of small-town characters. It isn’t
MacBeth, and it doesn’t exactly illuminate MacBeth, but takes a more lighthearted approach to the discovery of corpses. Bradley is so busy exploring the possibilities of the double lives of his characters that he neglects to have his heroine undergo any significant change or growth. But it might be the smartest way to deal with an
11-year-old chemistry-obsessed detective who longs for a purpose in life. Surely there will be no shortage of deaths to keep Flavia de Luce from rummaging around in the lives of the residents of Bishop Lacey.