Winner of the 2007 Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger
A delightfully dark English mystery, featuring precocious young sleuth Flavia de Luce and her eccentric family.
The summer of 1950 hasn’t offered up anything out of the ordinary for eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce: bicycle explorations around the village, keeping tabs on her neighbours, relentless battles with her older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, and brewing up poisonous concoctions while plotting revenge in their home’s abandoned Victorian chemistry lab, which Flavia has claimed for her own.
But then a series of mysterious events gets Flavia’s attention: A dead bird is found on the doormat, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. A mysterious late-night visitor argues with her aloof father, Colonel de Luce, behind closed doors. And in the early morning Flavia finds a red-headed stranger lying in the cucumber patch and watches him take his dying breath. For Flavia, the summer begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw: “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.”
Did the stranger die of poisoning? There was a piece missing from Mrs. Mullet’s custard pie, and none of the de Luces would have dared to eat the awful thing. Or could he have been killed by the family’s loyal handyman, Dogger… or by the Colonel himself! At that moment, Flavia commits herself to solving the crime — even if it means keeping information from the village police, in order to protect her family. But then her father confesses to the crime, for the same reason, and it’s up to Flavia to free him of suspicion. Only she has the ingenuity to follow the clues that reveal the victim’s identity, and a conspiracy that reaches back into the de Luces’ murky past.
A thoroughly entertaining romp of a novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is inventive and quick-witted, with tongue-in-cheek humour that transcends the macabre seriousness of its subject. – Goodreads
I thoroughly enjoyed Flavia de Luce. An eleven-year-old budding chemist, Flavia is part of a privileged family and lives in a mansion (seriously, it has wings and her own chemistry lab) with her father, sisters and the gardener/jack-of-all trades, Dogger.
Flavia is something of a loner. Her mother died, and her father is distant. Her older sister Ophelia is vain and only interested in primping and flirting. Daphne, Flavia’s other sister, lives in the fictional worlds of her beloved books and has little attention for the real world. Flavia’s discovery of a chemistry lab that had belonged to a now-deceased family member led her to an interest and area of expertise all her own (and as a bonus, it also provides her with the means for petty revenge against her irritating siblings).
One morning Flavia wanders out into the garden… and discovers a dead body. As a curious and tenacious child, Flavia cannot help following clues, despite being instructed by the police to leave the investigation alone.
Before long she has found some disturbing information tying her father to the murder victim, and is forced to face the possibility that her father is at the very least caught in a murderous web, and at worst is a murderer.
Flavia is such a winningly precocious character that I couldn’t help but be won over by her. It helped that she was strongly reminiscent of some of my favourite childhood literary idols – from Nancy Drew to Trixie Belden to Harriet the Spy. Though the plot does challenge credulity at times, I found it easy to want to suspend my disbelief and trail Flavia as she fearlessly sets off to find out exactly what happened to the man in the cucumber patch.
Related backlist reads:
- The Nancy Drew mysteries by Carolyn Keene (for young readers)
- The Trixie Belden mysteries by Julie Campbell and Kathryn Kenny (for young readers)
- Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh (for young readers)
- The Maisie Dobbs books by Jacqueline Winspear (my review of Maisie Dobbs)
- The Maggie Hope books by Susan Elia MacNeal (my review of Mr. Churchill’s Secretary)
Author: Alan Bradley
Series: Yes – Flavia de Luce
Published By: Anchor Canada
Released: November 10, 2009
Genre: Fiction, Mystery
Date Read: March 22-April 2, 2015