The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
By Alan Bradley
Delacorte Press April 2009
From the library
Flavia De Luce is a regular 11 year old girl living in 1950s England, except for the minor fact that she’s sort of a science genius. She concocts chemistry experiments in her attic, particularly poisons and brews that will make the lives of her older sisters quite miserable. When she discovers a dead man in her garden, instead of screaming in horror, she realizes that this is “the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.” Given her suspicion that the dead man is the very person that her father had argued with earlier that evening, Flavia sets out to clear her father’s name and figure out why in the world there was a dead bird with a stamp on its beak on her doorstep.
Flavia is delightful. At eleven, she is brilliant, precocious, and often startled to discover that she is actually still a child. She oscillates between marveling at the complexities of science and using that very science to give her sister a nasty rash (which is only fair because she tied Flavia up and locked her in a closet). While she often acts in a rather adult manner, some of the best moments in the novel are simple childish things like realizing she misses her daddy.
“Here we were, Father and I, shut up in a plain little room, and for the first time in my life having something that might pass for a conversation. We were talking to one another almost like adults; almost like one human being to another; almost like father and daughter. And even though I couldn’t think of anything else to say, I felt myself wanting it to go on and on until the last star blinked out.
I wished I could hug him, but I couldn’t. For some time now I had been aware that there was something in the de Luce character which discouraged any outward show of affection towards one another, any spoken statement of love. It was something in our blood.
And so we sat, Father and I, primly, like two old women at a parish tea. It was not a perfect way to live one’s life, but it would have to do.”
It is so lovely to have a different protagonist in a mystery story besides the wearied, middle-aged detective (extra points for a drinking problem or relationship issues) or a beautiful young female detective who constantly has to prove herself among her male peers. Instead, we get Flavia who is the kind of friend you wish you had as an eleven year old. If I’m being honest, I must confess that I would hang out with her today at the ripe old age of 24. The mystery plotline is good, but Flavia makes this book. The mystery is really a convenient excuse for the reader to see the world through her fascinating eyes. I’m glad I finally got to read this book. I will be picking up the next in the series in short order.