Desert Isle Keeper
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
Flavia de Luce, girl sleuth, makes a roaring first appearance in Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The first in a mystery series set in 1950s England, this is hands down, the best mystery I’ve read this year. I love Flavia de Luce.
I should start by saying there isn’t a hint of romance, which is a good thing, because Flavia, our heroine, is 11 years old. Flavia lives with her father and two older sisters at Buckshaw, a large home in a small English town. Her mother died when Flavia was an infant.
With a few exceptions, Flavia is left completely to her own devices. Her father is distant, spending, most of his time in his study with his stamp collection. Flavia is scornful of her sisters, and they seem to feel the same about her.
Now all this could leave you thinking, oh, poor little Flavia, she must mope about with nothing to do. Nothing could be further from the truth. While she can be a bratty 11-year old, Flavia is also brilliant, and more than capable of entertaining herself. Flavia loves chemistry, and is particularly fond of poisons. She’s taken over an abandoned chemistry lab tucked in a corner of the house that was previously used by one of her long-dead relatives. And, oh, the things she does in that lab.
The routine at Buckshaw is disrupted when a dead bird appears at the back door, with a rare postage stamp affixed to its body. Soon after, Flavia overhears her father arguing with a stranger, and a few hours later, when she sneaks outside to investigate, finds a dying man in the cucumber patch. Flavia calls the police and expects to help them investigate. She’s extremely irritated when they ask her to organize tea for them and to stay in the house, away from their investigations. But that doesn’t stop Flavia.
Flavia concludes that the dead man has been poisoned, and there seem to be clues to her father’s past. This is all she needs to send her off investigating the man, her father’s past, and potential poisons. On her trusty bike Gladys, Flavia roars around the countryside, going places 11-year olds really shouldn’t go by themselves.
The mystery is almost secondary to the development of Flavia as a character, and that was just fine with me, as I found her to be one of the most interesting characters I’ve discovered in years. She’s clearly not perfect. She can be petulant, and comes up with rather diabolical ways – thanks to chemistry – to torment her sisters. But she’s brave, interesting, smart, determined, and full of life.
Parts of the book had me laughing aloud over the things Flavia would think and say. Other parts had me truly worried for her safety. But throughout, I was entertained. I know that I will read this again and again.
I have already read the second in the series, and was delighted to discover that so far, six books are planned. All I can say is, please, Mr. Bradley, write faster!