hi, ya’ll! This was the last book I read during the summer, and the tiny bit of the review I wrote has been sitting here in the draft box and taunting me for weeks to finish it– so here it finally is!
Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Author: Alan Bradley
Pub date: 2009
Series: (the bio at the end of the book promises a sequel)
Summary: In the summer of 1950, Flavia de Luce, an eleven-year-old chemist (specializing in poisons), is living in her expansive but crumbling ancestral home out in the English countryside. One afternoon, a dead rook with a stamp on its beak is found on the kitchen doorstep. By the end of the week, there is a dead man in the cucumber patch, her father has been arrested for murder, and Flavia has taken up the job of solving the mystery in her own inemitable way.
What first attracted me to this novel was its perfect size and cover. It’s just the right size, as a hardback with nice rounded edges, to fit in a purse or a coat pocket. The cover art is simple but intriguing, and it contains an essential clue to the story’s plot. (No, I’m not going to tell you what it is.) It’s also long enough that I couldn’t finish it in one sitting, but it was still a fairly quick read. Towards the end, I actually slowed myself down to savor it, as the sequel is not yet available, and I wanted to spend more time with Flavia.
Speaking of the heroine/ detective Flavia…I don’t know how Alan Bradley did it, but he somehow went back in time, read my eleven-year-old mind, and then created just the sort of girl I really, really wanted to be! She rides her bike everywhere, lives in a sprawling, crumbling mansion, is clever, solves mysteries, and is a chemistry prodigy (ok, that last part I didn’t dream about). She’s a delight to read about, and precocious in just the right amount of way. I didn’t get sick of her or find her too adult-like, as is often the case with child-heroes. Spot on, Mr. Bradley!
The mystery itself is quite good, if a bit wrapped up in esoterica, but Bradley gives the reader all of the information they need in simple and natural pieces. I like learning things from mystery novels, as I’ve said before, and here I learned a bit about rare stamps and British history. Unlike some authors whose early books contained lessons which are really unnecessary to the plot (yes, Kathy Reichs, I’m talking to you. You’ve improved now, though, so good job), all of the little lessons here are crucial to the reader’s understanding of the plot– even when they don’t seem to be. So, pay attention, ladies and gentlemen.
Bradley clearly won the Dagger Award for a reason with this novel. It’s a good ‘un.
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