Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Book Review - The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Title: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Author: Alan Bradley
Year of publication: 2009
Publisher: Orion
Page extent: 384

It's 1950 and Flavia de Luce is an eleven year old girl living in at Buckshaw, a formerly grand mansion in the small English village of Bishop's Lacey. An apsiring chemist, Flavia spends most of her time locked away in her fully functioning laboratory performing chemical experiments with frighteningly accurate results. The rest of the time she is being tormented by her older sisters, Daphne and Ophelia (aka The Devil's Hairball), or roaming the countryside and bellowing at the top of her lungs on Gladys, her trusty bicycle. The three girls live with their widowed father, Colonel de Luce, their irritating housekeeper Mrs. Mullet, and Dogger, a former prisoner of war and general caretaker.

Life at Buckshaw gets interesting when Mrs. Mullet finds a dead bird on the doorstep with it's beak piercing a postage stamp known as the Penny Black. A few hours later, Flavia finds a man in the cucumber patch and witnesses his last words and dying breath. Overcome with curiosity and delight at the forensic investigation that takes place at Buckshaw, Flavia begins to examine life at Buckshaw, and her father, in greater detail. When Colonel de Luce is arrested for the murder, he opens up about life at boarding school, the theft of a priceless item, and the apparent suicide of one of his teachers. Convinced that her father is innocent, Flavia's investigation of the murder intensifies, much to the annoyance of Inspector Hewitt at the police department, and she manages to solve the crime, though not without getting herself into a bit of hot water along the way.

I've had this book on my 'to read' list for quite a while, and when I finally got around to reading it, I was completely delighted. Flavia de Luce is an hilarious protaganist - intelligent, glib, and cheekily arrogant, she is the perfect mix of Agatha Christie and Nancy Drew. Bradley's cast of quirky characters that reside in Bishop's Lacey add an additional layer of charm to the story, particularly during Flavia's interactions with them. Her superior, couldn't care less attitude towards Bishop Lacey's who only hinder her attempts at clearing her father's name is quite amusing coming from an eleven year old girl. As she gets closer to solving the crime, Flavia's patience with the adults in the village wears thin, and her boldness and cunning tactics increase with equal parts hilarity and intensity.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a clever romp through the young adult murder mystery genre. Flavia de Luce embarks on her investigation with youthful arrogance, and quickly proves herself as a fearless super sleuth. Bradley's sharply written story is full of witty barbs and condesending observations about life in Bishop's Lacey seen through Flavia's eyes, and it's clearl she thinks she knows better than everyone else. It's a delight from start to finish, with a good dose of suspense dolloped throughout.

In a word: good

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