Thursday, December 30, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Random House Publishing Group, 2009
Hardcover, 384 pages
Flavia de Luce Series #1
ISBN-13: 9780385342308
highly recommended

In his wickedly brilliant first novel, Debut Dagger Award winner Alan Bradley introduces one of the most singular and engaging heroines in recent fiction: eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. It is the summer of 1950 and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia's family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life 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. (pg. 29)

My Thoughts:

In The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley eleven year old Flavia Sabina de Luce solves a murder mystery in the 1950's English countryside. Flavia is a precocious child, already an accomplished chemist and seemingly very well read. This seems to follow the template of a classic mystery with a cute little girl leading the investigation.

I'm going to have to admit that I wasn't sure if this book was intended for adults or for a younger audience. It would certainly be appropriate for younger readers since it features a young girl, there is no swearing, and the murder is not violent or bloody. On the other hand there are literary references and information about chemistry, that may be boring and/or go over the heads of younger readers.

While I enjoyed The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and found it delightful and humorous in many ways, I wasn't quite so accepting that a protagonist as intelligent, knowledgeable, and fearless as Flavia would only be eleven years old. I also found her precociousness a bit annoying after awhile. I would have been more accepting if she were a little older, perhaps thirteen. Additionally, with the exception of Flavia, all the characters felt one dimensional and, to be honest, I personally never really cared who dunnit.

I'm not an aficionado of cozy mysteries or British mysteries, but I believe The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie would fit into the cozy category. If you read this series, read it for the clever writing and references.
highly recommended


It was as black in the closet as old blood. they had shoved me in and locked the door. I breathed heavily through my nose, fighting desperately to remain calm. I tried counting to ten on every intake of breath, and to eight as I released each one slowly into the darkness. Luckily for me, they had pulled the gag so tightly into my open mouth that my nostrils were left unobstructed, and I was able to draw in one slow lungful after another of the stale, musty air. opening

"Ophelia and Daphne not down yet, Flavia?" he asked peevishly, looking up from the latest issue of The British Philatelist, which lay open beside his meat and potatoes.
"I haven't seen them in ages," I said.
It was true. I hadn't seen them—not since they had gagged and blindfolded me, then lugged me hog-tied up the attic stairs and locked me in the 2-3

Uncle Tar's laboratory had been locked up and preserved in airless silence, down through the dusty years until what Father called my "strange talents" had begun to manifest themselves, and I had been able to claim it for my own.
I still shivered with joy whenever I thought of the rainy autumn day that Chemistry had fallen into my life. pg. 8

My particular passion was poison. pg. 10

It was a bird, a jack snipe - and it was dead. It lay on its back on the doorstep, its stiff wings extended like a little pterodactyl, is eyes rather unpleasantly filmed over, the long needle of its bill pointing straight up into the air. Something impaled upon it shifted in he morning breeze - a tiny scrap of paper.
No, not a scrap of paper, a postage stamp. pg. 15


Carl V. Anderson said...

I didn't have too much difficulty accepting her despite her age mostly because I found her to be such a delightful character. While I think a child like that in real life would be incredibly annoying to be around, in this fictional setting I just loved her. And I agree that the other characters were one-dimensional, but as we are seeing them through Flavia's eyes that seems appropriate. And I don't mind stock characters when the story is entertaining. Glad you enjoyed it despite the issues you had with it.

Lori L said...

Thanks for providing the counterpoint to my thoughts, Carl! While I know you liked it more than I did, as a highly recommended book I would certainly read other books by Bradley featuring Flavia.

Carl V. Anderson said...

No problem, I've heard some very valid criticisms of these stories, yours being in line with others that I've read, and I don't believe they are wrong at all. Your experience with them was just different than mine. And I freely admit that I like many stories with characters who are little more than your standard hero (or other) type with little dimension, but because the story is fun I don't really notice those things as much. Probably makes me a less than discerning reader, but I like what I like. :)