NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Flavia de Luce—“part Harriet the Spy, part Violet Baudelaire from Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events” (The New York Times Book Review)—takes her remarkable sleuthing prowess to the unexpectedly unsavory world of Canadian boarding schools in the captivating new mystery from New York Times bestselling author Alan Bradley.
Banished! is how twelve-year-old Flavia de Luce laments her predicament, when her father and Aunt Felicity ship her off to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, the boarding school that her mother, Harriet, once attended across the sea in Canada. The sun has not yet risen on Flavia’s first day in captivity when a gift lands at her feet. Flavia being Flavia, a budding chemist and sleuth, that gift is a charred and mummified body, which tumbles out of a bedroom chimney. Now, while attending classes, making friends (and enemies), and assessing the school’s stern headmistress and faculty (one of whom is an acquitted murderess), Flavia is on the hunt for the victim’s identity and time of death, as well as suspects, motives, and means. Rumors swirl that Miss Bodycote’s is haunted, and that several girls have disappeared without a trace. When it comes to solving multiple mysteries, Flavia is up to the task—but her true destiny has yet to be revealed.
Praise for As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust
“Flavia de Luce [is] perhaps contemporary crime fiction’s most original character—to say she is Pippi Longstocking with a Ph.D. in chemistry (speciality: poisons) barely begins to describe her.”—Maclean’s
“Another treat for readers of all ages . . . [As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust] maintains the high standards Bradley set from the start.”—Booklist
“Exceptional . . . [The] intriguing setup only gets better, and Bradley makes Miss Bodycote’s a suitably Gothic setting for Flavia’s sleuthing. Through it all, her morbid narrative voice continues to charm.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Even after all these years, Flavia de Luce is still the world’s greatest adolescent British chemist/busybody/sleuth.”—The Seattle Times
“Plot twists come faster than Canadian snowfall. . . . Bradley’s sense of observation is as keen as gung-ho scientist Flavia’s. . . . The results so far are seven sparkling Flavia de Luce mysteries.”—Library Journal
“A rattling good ‘girls’ own adventure’ yarn with an extensive cast of characters and suspects . . . When all is revealed, the links, misunderstandings and secrecy have a satisfying click.”—Winnipeg Free Press
“A delightful installment in the series!”—LibraryReads
Acclaim for Alan Bradley’s beloved Flavia de Luce novels, winners of the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award, Barry Award, Agatha Award, Macavity Award, Dilys Winn Award, and Arthur Ellis Award
“If ever there were a sleuth who’s bold, brilliant, and, yes, adorable, it’s Flavia de Luce.”—USA Today
“This idiosyncratic young heroine continues to charm.”—The Wall Street Journal
“Delightful . . . a combination of Eloise and Sherlock Holmes.”—The Boston Globe
From the Hardcover edition.
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Alan Bradley is the internationally bestselling author of many short stories, children’s stories, newspaper columns, and the memoir The Shoebox Bible. His first Flavia de Luce novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, received the Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger Award, the Dilys Winn Award, the Arthur Ellis Award, the Agatha Award, the Macavity Award, and the Barry Award, and was nominated for the Anthony Award. His other Flavia de Luce novels are The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, A Red Herring Without Mustard, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Speaking from Among the Bones, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, and As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
“Banished!” the wild wind shrieked as it tore at my face.
“Banished!” the savage waves roared as they drenched me with freezing water.
“Banished!” they howled. “Banished!”
There is no sadder word in the English language. The very sound of it—-like echoing iron gates crashing closed behind you; like steel bolts being shot shut—-makes your hair stand on end, doesn’t it?
I shouted the word into the tearing wind, and the wind spat it back into my face.
I was standing at the heaving prow of the R.M.S. Scythia, my jaws wide open to the gale, hoping that the salt spray would wash the bad taste out of my mouth: the taste that was my life so far.
Somewhere, a thousand miles behind us over the eastern horizon, lay the village of Bishop’s Lacey and Buckshaw, my former home, where my father, Colonel Haviland de Luce, and my sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, were most likely, at this very moment, getting on nicely with their lives as if I had never existed.
They had already forgotten me. I was sure of it.
Only the faithful family retainers, Dogger and Mrs. Mullet, would have shed a furtive tear at my departure, but even so, they, too, in time, would have only foggy memories of Flavia.
Out here on the wild Atlantic, the Scythia’s bow was hauling itself up . . . and up . . . and up out of the sea, climbing sickeningly toward the sky, then crashing down with a horrendous hollow booming, throwing out great white wings of water to port and starboard. It was like riding bareback on an enormous steel angel doing the breaststroke.
Although it was still early September, the sea was madness. We had encountered the remnants of a tropical hurricane, and now, for more than two days, had been tossed about like a cast--off cork.
Everyone except the captain and I—-or so it seemed—-had dragged themselves off to their bunks, so that the only sounds to be heard as one reeled along the pitching, rolling corridors to dinner were the groan of stressed steel and, behind closed doors on either side, the evacuation of scores of stomachs. With nearly nine hundred passengers on board, it was a sobering sound.
As for me, I seem to be blessed with a natural immunity to the tossing seas: the result, I supposed, of seafaring ancestors such as Thaddeus de Luce, who, although only a lad at the Battle of Trafalgar, was said to have brought lemonade to the dying Admiral Nelson, and to have held his cold and clammy hand.
Nelson’s last words, actually, were not the widely reported “Kiss me, Hardy,” addressed to Captain Thomas Hardy of the Victory, but rather, “Drink, drink . . . fan, fan . . . rub, rub,” whispered feverishly to the wide--eyed young Thaddeus, who, although reduced to tears at the sight of his mortally wounded hero, was doing his best to keep the great man’s circulation from crystallizing.
The wind ripped at my hair and tore at my thin autumn coat. I inhaled the salt air as deeply as I dared, the sea spray running in torrents down my face.
A hand seized my arm roughly.
“What the devil do you think you’re doing?”
I spun round, startled, trying to wriggle free.
It was, of course, Ryerson Rainsmith.
“What the devil do you think you’re doing?” he repeated. He was one of those people who thought that the secret of gaining the upper hand was to ask every question twice.
The best way of dealing with them is not to answer.
“I’ve been looking everywhere for you. Dorsey is beside herself with worry.”
“Does that mean there are now two of her to put up with?” I wanted to ask, but I didn’t.
With a name like Dorsey it was no wonder he called her “Dodo”—-or at least he did whenever he thought they were alone.
“We were afraid you’d fallen overboard. Now come below at once. Go to your cabin and put on some dry clothing. You look like a drowned rat.”
That did it. It was the last straw.
Ryerson Rainsmith, I thought, your days—-your very hours—-are numbered.
I would go to the young and handsome ship’s doctor, whom I had met at supper the night before last. On the pretext of an upset tummy I would beg a bottle of sodium bicarbonate. A healthy dose of the stuff—-I smiled at the word “healthy”—-slipped into Rainsmith’s invariable bottle of champagne would do the trick.
Taken on a full stomach—-no worries about that where Ryerson Rainsmith was concerned!—-sodium bicarbonate combined with effervescent alcohol could be deadly: first, the headache, which seemed to grow by the minute, followed by mental confusion and severe stomach pain; then the muscle weakness, the thin stools like coffee grounds, the tremors, the twitching: all the classic symptoms of alkalosis. I would insist on taking him out on deck for a healthy walk. Forcing him to hyperventilate in all this fresh, invigorating air would speed up the process—-like sloshing petrol onto a fire.
If I could manage to raise the pH of his arterial blood to 7.65, he wouldn’t stand the chance of a snowman in Hades. He would die in agony.
“I’m coming,” I said sullenly, and followed him at the speed of a sleepy snail, aft across the rolling, pitching foredeck.
Hard to imagine, I thought, that I had actually been handed over to this rancid slab of humanity. Hard to forget, though, how it had come about.
It had all begun with that awful business about my mother, Harriet. After ten years of being missing in the mountains of Tibet, Harriet had returned to Buckshaw in circumstances so painful that my brain was still forbidding me to think about them for more than a few seconds at a time; any longer than that, and my internal censor snipped my thread of memory as easily as Atropos, that dreaded third sister of the Fates, is said to snip the thread of life with her scissors when our time has come to die.
The upshot of it all was that I was to be packed off to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy, Harriet’s old school in Canada, where I was to be trained to assume some ancient and hereditary role of which I was still kept mostly in ignorance.
“You shall simply have to learn your way into it,” Aunt Felicity had told me. “But in time you shall come to realize that Duty is the best and wisest of all teachers.”
I wasn’t quite sure what she meant by that, but since my aunt was rather high up in this mysterious whatever--it--was, she was not to be argued with.
“It’s something like ‘The Firm,’ isn’t it?” I asked. “The nickname that the Royal Family call themselves.”
“Somewhat,” Aunt Felicity said, “but with this difference: Royalty is permitted to abdicate. We are not.”
It had been at Aunt Felicity’s insistence that I was packed up like a bundle of old rags and tossed onto a ship to Canada.
There had been protests, of course, at my going alone, notably from the vicar and his wife. Then there had been some talk about having Feely and her fiancé, Dieter Schrantz, accompany me on my transatlantic journey, but that idea was scotched on the grounds not only that it would be improper, but also that Feely’s position as organist at St. Tancred’s was classified as an essential service.
At that point Cynthia Richardson, the vicar’s wife, threw her own name into the hat. Although Cynthia and I had had our ups and downs, we had recently become great pals, an unexpected twist in my life I was still finding hard to believe. Away from her husband, Cynthia was brimming with fun: a girl again, in spite of herself. The vicar would have been horrified at the amount of tea the two of us sprayed out in hysterical laughter upon the slate floor of the vicarage kitchen.
But then, alas, Cynthia’s name, too, was taken out of the running. Like Feely, she was too important to be released. Without her, there would be no church calendar, no church bulletins, no flowers for the altar, no home visits, no Girl Guides, no clean cassocks and surplices, no meals for the vicar . . . the list went on and on.
I knew she was disappointed: She told me so.
“I should have liked to see Canada,” she told me. “My father, as a young man, worked as a log driver—-a river pig—-on the Ottawa River. Instead of fairy tales at bedtime, he used to tell me horrific stories of the loup--garou—-the werewolf of the Canadian woods—-and of how he once gave a good dunking to Ole Bull and Big Jacques Laroque in the log--rolling contest at the Rapides des Allumettes, both on the same morning.
“I had always hoped that I would one day be able to lace on a pair of spiked logger’s boots and have a go at it myself,” she added wistfully. “Now I suppose I shan’t have a chance.”
I could have wept at the sight of her sitting there at the vicarage kitchen table, her eyes staring damply into her past.
“The Altar Guild is likely just as dangerous,” I said brightly, hoping to cheer her up, but I don’t think she heard me.
That same afternoon, Aunt Felicity announced that the problem was solved: She had heard from Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy that the chairman of the academy’s board of guardians, who had been summering in England, would be setting sail for home in September.
He had been shooting for a few days with one of our neighbors, Lord Crowsborough, and it would be no trouble at all, he said, to drop by and pick me up—-as if I were an empty milk bottle.
I shall never forget the day that he arrived at Buckshaw—-an hour and a half late, I might add—-in his borrowed Bentley. He had leapt from the car and dashed round to the offside to open the door for Dorsey, the queen of Sheba, who unfolded herself from the machine like a stork from an eggshell and stood blinking in the September sunshine as if she had just been startled awake from a hypnotic trance. She was wrapped in a dress of turquoise silk, with a matching scarf on her head and far too much magenta lipstick on her mouth. Need I say more?
“Oh, Ryerson,” she cooed, gazing at our ancestral home. “It’s all so quaint—-so tumble--de--dump. Just as you said it would be.”
Ryerson Rainsmith, in a summer suit the color of cold coffee and curdled cream, stood looking round in a self--satisfied manner with his thumbs tucked into his yellow waistcoat, drumming his fingers on his ample stomach. I was reminded of a partridge.
Father, who had gone to the front door to greet him, stepped out onto the gravel sweep and shook hands.
“Colonel de Luce, I presume,” Rainsmith said, as if he had just solved some great mystery. “I’d like you to say hello to my wife, Dorsey. Come and shake hands with the squire, my dear. It’s not every day you’ll get such an opportunity.
“Ha ha ha,” he added mirthlessly. “And this must be our little Flavia!”
On paper, the man was already dead.
“Mr. Rainsmith,” he said, shoving a damp hand into my face.
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.
I ignored the extended hand.
“Howdy,” I said.
Father stiffened. His eyes narrowed. I knew what was going on in his head.
My father was from an era when gentlemen were taught that politeness was everything, that the only sure way to lose out to the Philistines was to lose your temper and admit that they had wounded you. His years in a Japanese prisoner--of--war camp had perfected his ability to remain, in the face of insult, as silent as a standing stone.
“Please come in,” he said, gesturing to the open door. I wanted to give him a swift kick in the trousers and at the same time I wanted to hug him. Pride in a parent often takes strange forms.
“What a quaint old hall!” Dorsey Rainsmith said. Her voice was as sharp as elderly cheese and her words echoed back unpleasantly from the dark paneling of the foyer. “We have the same trouble with cracking varnish in our salon back home in Toronto, don’t we, Ryerson? Smithers, our handy-man, says it’s from either excessive heat or excessive cold.”
“Or age,” I suggested.
Father pierced me with a transparent look, but I knew what he meant.
In the drawing room, without being asked, the Rainsmiths subsided into the coziest seats, while Father and I perched on the edge of the remaining chairs.
After an interval timed to perfection, Dogger appeared and offered tea. I could see that the Rainsmiths were impressed.
“Thank you, Dogger,” I said. “And please convey our thanks to Mrs. Mullet.”
It was a game Dogger and I played: a game with rules so subtle that no one outside our immediate family could ever hope to grasp them.
“Not at all, Miss Flavia,” Dogger said. “It is our very great pleasure to be of service.”
“Yes, thank you, Dogger,” Ryerson Rainsmith said, out of his depth but paddling madly to keep his head above water.
“And also your Mrs. Mullet,” his wife added.
Dogger gave them a three--percent smile and vanished in the way he does.
After a while, Daffy and Feely came into the room, pretended to be bereft at the thought of losing me, chatted in a maddeningly polite fashion with the Rainsmiths, then drifted off to their respective books and looking glass.
But there’s no sense in raking through the ashes of that dismal afternoon.
It was decreed that the Rainsmiths would be my chaperones on the voyage to Canada, where they would deliver me up safely to the doorstep of Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy.
“Chaperones?” Daffy said when they were gone. “ ‘Cicerones,’ you mean. That’s the proper word for it. Flavia on the Grand Tour—-just think! I hope you appreciate it, you lucky chump. I’d give anything to be in your plimsolls.”
I threw a handy tennis racket at her, but I missed.
I missed Daffy in a very different way as I trudged up the sloping deck in the footsteps of Ryerson Rainsmith. Daffy, at least, was my own flesh and blood and could be defied without permanent damage. Ryerson Rainsmith, by contrast, would remember this moment for as long as he lived. He would still be telling his putrid grandchildren about it when he was no more than a shriveled pudding in a wheelchair.
“And there she was—-there I found her,” he would tell them in a cracked, quavering voice, “standing on the first six inches of the ship’s bow with the waves breaking over her head.”
He spoke not a word until we were belowdecks, tottering like walking toys along the heaving passageway toward the Rainsmiths’ stateroom. He had obviously forgotten ordering me to change into dry clothing. Or perhaps he had decided to deliver me up damp to his wife.
“Take my advice,” he said in a conspiratorial whisper, as if we were suddenly old pals. “Don’t rile her.”
He rapped at the door with his knuckles before opening it and motioning me to go ahead of him.
By the way Dorsey Rainsmith looked at me, I might have been a cobra shoved into her face.
“Look at you!” she said. “Just look at you!”
It is an order often given to girls of my age with little thought given to how difficult it is to carry out, actually.
I crossed my eyes very slightly, but if she noticed, it went over her head.
“Where have you been?” she demanded.
“On deck,” I said.
“You might have fallen overboard. Did you never think of that?”
“No,” I said truthfully. I might also have been hit on the noggin and killed by a falling...
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