The last book had warned us readers, and this book confirmed our fears along with that of Flavia. She gets banished, to Miss. Bodycote’s Academy in Canada, to start her “training” which according to Aunt Felicity would fulfil her destiny, just like her mother. Flavia reaches Canada, accompanied by two “pills” called Dr. amd Mrs. Rainsmith. Mr. Rainsmith puts up his name in Flavia’s bad books as soon as he introduces himself,
“Dogger had once warned me to be wary of any man who introduced himself as “Mr.” It was an honorific, he said, a mark of respect to be bestowed by others, but never, ever, under any circumstances, upon oneself.”
On reaching Bodycote, Falvia gets assigned to a room called Edith Cavell. No sooner does she settles into her bed, she starts getting slapped, and then no sooner had she stopped and started the deduction process to find “why”, the assault-ress manages to bring down a body of a woman, which was hidden inside the chimney. As the head slides down the floor, the Chimney Sweepers come to dust, to clear away the puzzle regarding the dead woman, missing students and ghosts.
Flavia misses her village and her family, and Dogger. And we miss them as much as she does. But, to keep us away from our sadness we get to meet some entertaining students with nice names, a teacher suspected of homicide, a wheelchair bound mistress who keeps stuffed animals, birds and skulls in her laboratory and lastly a principal, who loves to punish her students in unimaginable ways.
Flavia transforms from a happy-go-lucky, and sometimes sad girl, into a “banished” adolescent far away from home, who realises that no letters are coming from home, except from Dogger. Who realises that the truth must be reached through facts, and only facts and that emotions should be kept at bay. And she also comes face to face with deep sadness. As such faced by a little girl who is far away from home, with no letters to look forward to, and no laboratory turn to.
“Magic doesn’t work when you’re sad.”
Flavia might have been heading towards new territory, but Alan Bradley stays rooted in his original position and presents us with a taut fast paced mystery, once a spy thriller and the next moment a gothic murder mystery, with “lights out after dark”, ghosts in the hall, and dead bodies never discovered, and if discovered, they are found stuffed inside chimneys. And he doesn’t disappoint when it comes to twists too. Not one, but two twists remain to be served in the last course.
P.S. Isn’t Dame Agatha Christie the greatest of them all?? Sometimes she looks to me like that Blues guitarist whose licks are sampled by everyone but no one gives him the credit for being a master musician. I think it’s for once and all that the tag attached to Christie, saying that she is a great plotter and a horrible writer, should be dropped. If she was a horrible writer then why would she be “sampled” hither and tither, and even if she IS a horrible writer, she still will remain the best. The Queen.
As Flavia said,
“Could I, by sheer chance, have stumbled upon one of those classic killings, such as those written about by Miss Christie, in which the murderer mocks the police by carrying out killings that mimic nursery rhymes or fairy tales?”