Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d: A Flavia de Luce novel, Alan Bradley

It’s rare to read a series – even a beloved one – and have the eighth book be one’s favorite. I find that if I’m reading a series with three to seven books, it’s typically the third or fourth that I like best; however, any author writing in the same world for much longer than that starts to blur the details.

51ldoulkawlThis isn’t to say I don’t love a long series. I do. They may be my favorite type of books because I get to come back again and again to beloved characters. I wouldn’t trade a good series for anything, and yet I accept that they get fuzzy. The individual volumes are usually less important to me than the overarching storylines, and I’m often so excited for a new book that I devour it in hours or days and then despair that it will be years until the next one appears.

This has certainly been true for some of the Flavia de Luce novels. I remember several of the earliest ones quite clearly, and then it gets vague, and then the seventh book takes our young sleuth from England to Canada (which helps tremendously in separating its storyline from others), and then this newest volume, which I expected to relish and then lump in with the others, stood out above the rest.

When I was young, I read all the Nancy Drew novels our library had, and I remember enjoying them, although even then, I found the repetition of certain facts about Nancy to be a tiresome waste of pages. Nevertheless, there was a shortage of books about girls solving crimes, and I read anything on the subject I could find. Oh, to have had Flavia to read back then. If anything, she’s more like Harriet the Spy then Nancy Drew, although she has the composure of a woman much older than twelve.

She’s not well liked, and she’s constantly getting into trouble for nosing in where she doesn’t belong. Her family life is awful, and she relies on her keen intelligence to find a place for herself in a bitterly cold and lonely world. Unraveling murders is cathartic for Flavia. She is a scientist with a burning desire to break down the facts to their logical conclusion, and after reading eight books and one short story, I haven’t tired of watching her do it.

My heart breaks for her though. She is funny and bright and although she doesn’t admit it even to herself, she obviously hopes that the people she admires will see her for who she truly is if she continues her work. For all of her bravery and keen observations though, she is only twelve – eleven when she solved her first murder –  those years pre-puberty are lonely under the best of circumstances, and hers are not the best.

In this book especially, I couldn’t help but see the neglect, the coping mechanisms she’s had to forge and rely on increasingly throughout the series. Flavia at her core is absolute steel, and it’s both fascinating and heartbreaking to watch the naivete get stripped away as she is forced to grow up. One might think witnessing the carnage of multiple murders would be the most disturbing thing for a child’s psyche, but for this girl, the science behind death is the carrot to a life that is otherwise all stick.

9 thoughts on “Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d: A Flavia de Luce novel, Alan Bradley

  1. Very judicious comments you make about books in a long series – I’ve had that happen many a time, especially if I come in late to a series and have to read the backlist to catch up. The 3rd/4th seems to be the one where the writer and character are fully developed and hit the ground running, while still having something new to say.

    1. Yes, exactly! It’s the double edged sword of finding a series with a backlist – on the one hand, “hooray! new books to read!” and on the other, “wow – really getting bogged down in the repetitive details of this world.” I know it’s impossible not to experience a little deja vu when reading a series, but it’s refreshing when a good author can make the long haul worthwhile!

  2. I agree about series, I remember reading the sweet valley kids and then the sweet valley high series. I devoured each one as they came out, but every single book told me that they had blonde hair and blue eyes, and an older brother and a best friend named Lila! Your post definitely makes me aant to check out Flavia de Luce! Thanks for your insight 😚

    1. I’m positive I have every detail of Elizabeth and Jessica (and their friends) embedded in my memory for all eternity! Same with the Babysitters Club and the Bobbsey Twins. Little pockets of my brain I’m never getting back!

  3. Reblogged this on the erie beat: what happens between life & home and commented:
    a review from a kindred spirit. i also grew up a nancy drew fan. i also enjoy books with strong female leads (young or old) who utilize their intelligence and creativity as sources of strength and mechanism for coping.

    i have listened and enjoyed all of the book in these series as audio-books. i am so excited for this installment and hope for more in the future. #happyreading

    1. I’ve heard the audiobooks for Flavia are quite well-read. My friend swears she likes them better than reading them herself, which is high praise for the narrator. Glad Flavia’s being so well taken care on and “off” the page!

  4. Someone whose birthday party I attended last Sunday got this volume, so I am in line. I agree about the series ennui and I had actually stopped at 6 on this series, but I am challenged now to go forward.

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