Thursday, September 3, 2009

a review of "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie"

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Delacorte Press, ISBN 978-0385342308)

“Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie,
Who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?”
William King, the art of cookery (1708)

A mystery novel with an 11 year old sleuth may not be usual fare, but then our sleuth, the quite precocious Flavia de Luce, is no ordinary 11 year old, not by a long shot. It is the 1950's, and our little Flavia lives in the rather rundown English family estate of Buckshaw with her eccentric, stamp collecting father, the Colonel, and her two older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, who delight in torturing her almost as much as she delights in torturing them. When not avoiding the questionable culinary creations of the housekeeper Mrs. Mullet or learning useful skills like lock picking from the gardener Dogger, a shell shocker ex-soldier who served with the colonel, Flavia spends most of her free time in her extremely well equipped laboratory. Her specialty is I said, not your typical 11 year old.

The rather quiet pastoral setting of Buckshaw and the neighboring village of Bishop's Lacey are going to be disturbed though. First, Flavia overhears a very loud and hostile argument between a stranger and her father in his library and then very early the next morning she awakes to find a man lying in the garden, moments from death. In fact, saying just one last word to Flavia before he dies. Again, something that would be terribly upsetting to most of us, let alone a child, but not to our soon to be sleuth.
“ I wish I could say my heart was stricken, but it wasn’t. I wish I could say my instinct was to run away, but that would not be true. Instead, I watched in awe, savoring every detail: the fluttering fingers, the almost imperceptible bronze metallic cloudiness that appeared on the skin, as if, before my very eyes, it was being breathed upon by death.

And then the utter stillness.

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.”

Yes, Flavia is a rather unusual child.
So, when her father is arrested for the murder, it is not terribly surprising that our intrepid Flavia will set out on her trustworthy bicycle Gladys to find the real killer and prove her father innocent.

Flavia is a very intelligent and interesting young girl, with a unique view of things, so following her and Gladys on their quest is an entertaining and amusing jaunt. Our narrator is funny and smart and yet, maybe because she is still a child, she is able to admit some of her mistakes as she tries to figure out the crime, which I found made the plot all the more interesting and Flavia all the more endearing. The author has created a very nice setting for this cozy mystery and an engaging cast of characters, even if at times the homestead at Buchshaw and Bishop's Lacey seem a bit more English than the real England could possibly ever be. Maybe because, as I read in an interview the Canadian writer gave, he had never been to England until after the book was published.

You have to be willing to play along with some aspects of the book that are a bit over the top, a bit of a caricature even of the cozy British mystery. For me, the spunky Flavia is the book's saving grace. And since this is the first in what is to be a six book series, no doubt we will have ample opportunity to better get to know our young heroine and her small and charming world.


  1. I was really glad to see this review. I'd read about it in EW and it sounded charming. I would have a hard time imagining an 11 year old doing such things (same age as my daughter) but love a plucky personality!

  2. It does sound interesting. I have seen this title before but not sure where and really didn't know what the book was about. Seems like an odd title though.

    Glad you enjoyed it. Have a good weekend and happy reading.

  3. Flavia has named her bicycle Gladys? She sounds like my kind of girl. I'm dying to read this book!

  4. I so loved this story. Flavia was just great; looking forward to the sewries too!

  5. I wondered about this book a few times. Flavia sounds like a great character - precocious, quirky, smart. And I adore the bike's name, Gladys... makes a good cat name, too. Hmmmm, I need a new kitty name....
    I have a bias towards books set in England or written by British authors, too so this sounds like a good read for me!

    Thankks for a good review, Caite!
    ~ A

  6. Having such quirky main characters can just make a book sometimes. I think I'll have to put it on my tbr!

  7. you do have to love some one that names their bike...or their car. (my car is named Blue....because she is blue. in color, not attitude)

    Flavia has spunk...and that is great in a character!

    we will see if the author is able to continue that feel in the series. He said in the interview..I think it was on Amazon...that he does not plan to age her, which might make it difficult to explain all these murders in this little town over a short period of time...hmmmm

  8. He had never been to England and he set a book there? That's nervy. Wow.

    Glad you liked the book. Wasn't my cuppa, but a lot of people really liked it.

  9. yes, well, I'm not sure I would set a book in a place I had never been. which I think accounts for the sort of stereotypical feeling England has in the book.

    ..not that I am writing a book....

  10. Best review on this book I've read yet ... everyone seems to love it but you gave me the true flavor of it ... and I think it is now a 'must read."

  11. I've had this on my to-read list for a while. I love a mystery, and Flavia sounds like an off-beat main character.


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