Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

If you're a mystery reader, sooner or later this year you'll hear about Alan Bradley's crime novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The courage and personality of its main character, and the complicated mystery, has caught the attention of readers. The book won the Debut Dagger Award in 2007, presented by The Crime Writers' Association. Now published in the United States, it's one of the hottest books out there.

Meet Flavia de Luce. She's the eleven-year-old narrator of the story, set in a small English village in 1950. She longs for love from her widowed father, but understands her family doesn't easily show affection. She lives at Buckshaw, a house that has been in the de Luce family for centuries. Her older sisters victimize her, but Flavia is adept at revenge. She has two passions in life, her chemistry lab, and, as she says, "My particular passion was poison." Did I mention that Flavia is brilliant?

When Flavia snoops one night, she only hears part of the argument her father has with a stranger, an argument in which her father says they killed someone. Before she can learn more, Dogger, the family chauffeur turned gardener, drags her away. When she finds a man's body in the garden the next morning, and he dies in front of her, her reaction is typical for the Flavia readers will get to know. "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."

When Flavia's father becomes a suspect, she knows she can solve the case, a mystery that may go back to the years when her father was in school. Time after time, she flies off to the village on her trusty bike, Gladys, to ask questions, research at the library, and find answers.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie may not be for every reader. I loved Flavia, her intensity and her grit. At times, she was precocious. At other times, when fighting with her sisters, she was an eleven-year-old who turned from "Flavia the Invisible into Flavia the Holy Terror." And, she was just as ingenious and heroic as any amateur sleuth. Those readers who can't suspend disbelief and read about an intelligent eleven-year-old solving a complicated case, shouldn't pick up the book.

Those readers eager for an original heroine, and a complex, at times, amusing, mystery, will appreciate The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I wouldn't be afraid to give this to readers who loved Harry Potter. There's something about Flavia that reminds me of the lonely Harry. Yes, it's marketed as an adult mystery, but there is no reason other precocious young people won't enjoy reading about Flavia. And, following the success of this one, there will be a sequel. It's almost scary to think about Flavia getting older in the next book. Alan Bradley might not have written this book until he was in his seventies, but for the Canadian author, the first novel is a charm.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley. Delacorte Press, ©2009. ISBN 9780385342308 (hardcover), 384p.

19 comments:

Jen said...

This is one I have on my list. I've been hearing so many wonderful things about it. Thanks Lesa!

Molly said...

I have it on reserve at my library - number 38 in line (and that is after one week's wait!) I may become too impatient and just go buy it myself as it sounds absolutely wonderful to me.

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Jen. Loved that Flavia!

Lesa said...

Like you, Molly, I'll probably be buying a copy. Alan Bradley is going to be at the Poisoned Pen next month, and I'll probably get a copy when I'm there. I don't blame you for not wanting to wait.

beauvallet said...

I have had this book on reserve for over a month and I'm still 27th in line. Thanks for saying this would be good for YA readers, too. I know someone this would make a good gift for.

Kaye Barley said...

I'm with you, Lesa - Flavia is just wonderful!! and I loved the book. AND loved your review!

Lesa said...

You're welcome, Beauvallet. I didn't see anything in it that YAs couldn't read. If they enjoy mysteries, they would probably like Flavia.

Lesa said...

Thank you, Kaye! Glad you agreed with me about Flavia and the book. Thanks for taking time to let me know. Since you're one of MY favorite reviewers, I like to know what you think.

Clea Simon said...

I'm with you Kaye and Lesa - I completely loved this book! Flavia is exactly perfect, from her relationship with her sisters to her love of chemistry. To me, she's as much Pippi Longstocking as Harry Potter -- a charming troublemaker, and, yes, the handling of the more adult topics (the adults' PTSD, etc.) is done with enough sensitivity so that I'd have no problem handing this to a young reader.

Lesa said...

Oh, I like that Pippi Longstocking comparison, Clea. You're right. I liked the fact that she could maturely handle a murder investigation, but becomes childish when dealing with her sisters. She was perfect!

Diane said...

Looking forward to this one; great review.

TexasRed said...

This sounds so interesting! Thanks for the recommendation.

Janel said...

This is definitely going on my wish list. Your review is the second glowing recommendation. Maybe I can even pass it on to my daughter in a couple years.

Clea Simon said...

You're right, Lesa - Flavia is really right at that age where she can be mature... when she wants to be. That said, the ongoing battle between the sisters is very funny. The opening scene alone is worth the price!

Lesa said...

Diane & Texas Red,

You're welcome! It's a fun book.

Lesa said...

Janel,

If your daughter turns out to be a mystery reader, you'll probably be able to pass it on. It's a fun mystery.

Lesa said...

Clea,

The opening scene if terrific. The poisoned ivy is fun, but it's interesting that in some ways, she respects her sisters, no matter what she says.

Kris said...

This is the first I've heard of this book but it sounds very interesting. Hopefully I'll read more reviews soon.

Lesa said...

Kris,

I think you'll see more reviews soon. I know Bookbitch just read it, so she'll probably have a review on her site. I'm sure other bloggers will have reviews shortly.