Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

If there is a thing I truly despise, it is being addressed as "dearie." When I write my magnum opus, A Treatise Upon All Poison, and come to "Cyanide," I am going to put under "Uses" the phrase "Particularly efficacious in the cure of those who call one 'Dearie.
-Flavia de Luce

Who would have thought that a middle aged Canadian man living in the 2000s would know anything about an eleven year old girl living in 1950s England?  Surprises of surprises, Alan Bradley succeeds in this task with the creation of Flavia de Luce.  Flavia, is by no means your typical little girl.  She finds refuge in a Victorian chemistry lab located in her family's estate--Buckshaw and has a penchant for poisons.  She reminds me somewhat of a non-wizard version of Hermione Granger.  For the Sunny Von Bulows in the audience, Hermione is an intelligent young witch from the Harry Potter novels.  Anyway Flavia's cleverness and sense of adventure make her the perfect candidate in solving a murder that takes place literally in her backyard.

At first, the novel seems harmless enough with its quirky characters and witty dialogue.  We quickly learn that Flavia is free to do as she pleases, thanks to her father, Colonel de Luce, who spends more time with his stamps than his daughters.  We also find out early on that Flavia's mother, Harriet, died when Flavia was too young to remember her.  In addition, Flavia's sisters, Ophelia (Feely) and Daphne (Daffy) are too wrapped up in boys and books respectively for either of them to pay Flavia much mind.  However, everything abruptly changes when a dead bird turns up on the back stoop at Buchshaw with an old Penny Black stamp shoved through the beak.  As if this incident isn't disturbing enough, Flavia stumbles upon a (nearly) dead body in the family's cucumber patch.  The event proves thrilling rather than traumatizing for Flavia, but the macabre scene turns darker when police arrive and Flavia's father is charged with the murder of the deceased stranger.  Flavia soon finds herself playing the role of lead investigator in order to track down the real killer.

The ensuing events lead to Flavia discovering secrets from her father's past, uncovering a mystery of a lost Penny Black, and putting herself in increasing danger.  When she finally puts all the pieces together, Flavia is faced with a situation which would make even the seasoned mystery reader squirm.  Fortunately, this is the first book in a series so we know the odds are in Flavia's favor.

In short, this is a charming novel about a girl detective who's not afraid of being different.  The plot is fast-paced, but thoughtful and introspective when needed.  Bradley doesn't skimp on the supporting cast, and there are more wonderfully bizarre characters than I can list in this review.  The sequel, The Weed That Strings The Hangman's Bag, came out this year to great acclaim, and there are four more novels in the queue.  I hope Bradley keeps up the momentum of his first two efforts--Flavia de Luce is too good a character to waste and someone I will never get tired of reading about. 


  1. Putting it on the list! By the way, how do you choose/find your books?

  2. Hmmm, my comments aren't showing up, or I'm not seeing them. Anyway, I find my books mostly through recommendations from friends and family. I also read lots of other reviews for ideas on what to read. A lot of it is just luck.

  3. nice! would you consider this a YA novel? as in, could my young teen children read it?
    In any case, I'm going to look at the Kindle sample. Thanks, this is a great review.

  4. I wouldn't classify it as YA, but there's nothing in the book that's inappropriate for anyone over the age of 12. I hope you and your kids enjoy it.