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Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Author: Alan Bradley
Page Count: 374 pages
Genre: historical mystery
Copy for review obtained via my public library
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.”
To Flavia the investigation is the stuff of science: full of possibilities, contradictions, and connections. Soon her father, a man raising his three daughters alone, is seized, accused of murder. And in a police cell, during a violent thunderstorm, Colonel de Luce tells his daughter an astounding story—of a schoolboy friendship turned ugly, of a priceless object that vanished in a bizarre and brazen act of thievery, of a Latin teacher who flung himself to his death from the school’s tower thirty years before. Now Flavia is armed with more than enough knowledge to tie two distant deaths together, to examine new suspects, and begin a search that will lead her all the way to the King of England himself. Of this much the girl is sure: her father is innocent of murder—but protecting her and her sisters from something even worse….
Three cheers for me, I finally got around to reading this book! I'm glad I did, too- it was the perfect summer mystery, not too heavy, not too light, with lots of fun details and a totally unique detective.
I do mean totally unique- Flavia de Luce is eleven years old, and if you look up precocious in the dictionary, there she is. Her days revolve around the study of chemistry (her specialty is poisons) and tormenting her two older sisters, who give as good as they get. Close behind those things are avoiding eating the revolting concoctions served for dinner and staying out of her father's hair.
When a dead bird with a postage stamp stuck to his beak appears on the door step one morning, it's the start of a bizarre chain of events that end with Flavia's father being arrested for murder. Flavia sets out to prove her father's innocence and finds that there is a lot of history that she's not aware of- turns out her father is an excellent secret keeper.
I think my favorite thing about mystery novels that aren't in the CSI vein is that information is uncovered in a fairly straightforward manner. Example- when Flavia wants to know something, she goes to the library. When she's wrong or off track, she puzzles it out and figures out what needs to be done next. I've caught myself saying "oh, scissors!" (her favorite expression of dismay) in real life since finishing the book.
I also got the chance to learn a little bit about some topics I was unfamiliar with before- stamps and stamp collecting, chemistry- it was good fun! I think this book would be a fun one to experience as an audiobook and have added this one to my list of "audiobooks to get at some point in the future."
Lucky for me, there are several additional books in this series already out, and each one seems to be living up to expectations for other readers. I'm looking forward to judging for myself.
Posted by Emily at 5:43 AM