The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie


By Alan Bradley

The Short Take:

This totally charming murder mystery has a most unusual “detective:” an 11-year-old girl with a passion for chemistry, particularly poisons. How can you resist?

Why?

Judging from book binding and the young lead character, I suspect this novel is primarily intended for junior readers. Don’t let that dissuade you. Get it, read it, and then pass it on to a daughter/granddaughter/niece/any young girl. Not only will both you and your recipient be thoroughly entertained, this book may inspire some future scientists — a good thing for sure.

Set in 1950 rural England, Bradley’s mystery is awash with interesting characters. You find yourself wanting to know more about all of them (Good. Bradley is planning sequels). None are more engaging than Flavia de Luce, the bold and brainy youngest daughter of a reclusive philatelist. She is some kid — courageous, inquisitive, and engaged in a highly amusing (and somewhat alarming) feud with her two sisters. They all live in an ancient and crumbling manor, the type where the artificial lake features an island folly. There’s also a family retainer of dubious origin and an excitable cook; plus various interesting town denizens and some rather indulgent local police.

The mystery keeps a steady pace and does a good job of keeping you wondering “who did it,” without withholding information. Several times I thought I knew the line of detecting Flavia should follow, only to find out I was wrong. No wonder this book won the Debut Dagger Award. It’s a treat.

A Little Plot:

When Flavia comes across a dead man in her garden, she’s not upset. She’s so elated she considers it the best thing that ever happened to her. From then on she pursues every lead, despite (gentle) discouragement from the police. Her primary clues include a dead bird, stamps, and some connection to Norway. Not your usual set of leads, to be sure.

She occasionally uses her exceptional knowledge of chemistry to test theories and references to famous scientists are scattered throughout. But it is Flavia’s keen intelligence that eventually unmasks the murderer. Which is not necessarily a good thing.

To learn more about Flavia, this book, and Alan Bradley, click here.

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