I have been remiss in posting this review because I’m already absorbed in the next book in the series. However, I really enjoyed The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley and believe it should get the attention it deserves. I first heard about the book when it came into the office; Alan Bradley is a Canadian author and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is his first work of fiction. In July 2007 Bradley received the debut fiction award from the British Crime Writers’ Association based on only 15 pages of Flavia’s adventures.
Flavia de Luce is an extremely intelligent and interesting eleven-year-old girl. She is the youngest of three sisters being raised by a single father. She is extremely interested in chemistry, particularly poisons. You instantly fall in love with Flavia and the de Luce family. I didn’t want to put the book down each night, yet felt satisfied with each chapter as it progressed.
The summer of 1950 hasn’t offered up anything out of the ordinary for eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce: bicycle explorations around the village, keeping tabs on her neighbours, relentless battles with her older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, and brewing up poisonous concoctions while plotting revenge in their home’s abandoned Victorian chemistry lab, which Flavia has claimed for her own.
But then a series of mysterious events gets Flavia’s attention: A dead bird is found on the doormat, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. A mysterious late-night visitor argues with her aloof father, Colonel de Luce, behind closed doors. And in the early morning Flavia finds a red-headed stranger lying in the cucumber patch and watches him take his dying breath. For Flavia, the summer begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw: “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”
Did the stranger die of poisoning? There was a piece missing from Mrs. Mullet’s custard pie, and none of the de Luces would have dared to eat the awful thing. Or could he have been killed by the family’s loyal handyman, Dogger… or by the Colonel himself! At that moment, Flavia commits herself to solving the crime — even if it means keeping information from the village police, in order to protect her family. But then her father confesses to the crime, for the same reason, and it’s up to Flavia to free him of suspicion. Only she has the ingenuity to follow the clues that reveal the victim’s identity, and a conspiracy that reaches back into the de Luces’ murky past.
[From the publisher, Random House of Canada]
I really enjoyed reading Flavia’s mystery; it was a delight from beginning to end. I followed the clues with her and although the next ‘step’ in solving the mystery was occasionally predictable, I was enthralled enough with the characters and setting to not care. I love reading books that take place in England after spending so much time there, and a semi-historical period (from 1950) is also very appealing. Flavia is very quick-witted and Bradley’s writing can be quite humourous. I finished the book feeling very satisfied and contented, yet still wanted more Flavia!
I quickly picked up the second Flavia de Luce mystery, The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag. Expect a review very soon! I also intend to read A Red Herring without Mustard, which is the third Flavia book that Alan Bradley is currently writing. Some interesting links:
- The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag
- Quill & Quire Author Profile of Alan Bradley
- Flavia de Luce website (for “The Buckshaw Chronicles” series)
- Flavia Fan Club (Book Ning)
- Author Spotlight for Alan Bradley at Random House of Canada
Full disclosure: I received a copy of the book from the publisher for review purposes. This situation did not affect my review in any way, shape or form.