The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
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Amazon Best of the Month, April 2009: It's the beginning of a lazy summer in 1950 at the sleepy English village of Bishop's Lacey. Up at the great house of Buckshaw, aspiring chemist Flavia de Luce passes the time tinkering in the laboratory she's inherited from her deceased mother and an eccentric great uncle. When Flavia discovers a murdered stranger in the cucumber patch outside her bedroom window early one morning, she decides to leave aside her flasks and Bunsen burners to solve the crime herself, much to the chagrin of the local authorities. But who can blame her? What else does an eleven-year-old science prodigy have to do when left to her own devices? With her widowed father and two older sisters far too preoccupied with their own pursuits and passions—stamp collecting, adventure novels, and boys respectively—Flavia takes off on her trusty bicycle Gladys to catch a murderer. In Alan Bradley's critically acclaimed debut mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, adult readers will be totally charmed by this fearless, funny, and unflappable kid sleuth. But don't be fooled: this carefully plotted detective novel (the first in a new series) features plenty of unexpected twists and turns and loads of tasty period detail. As the pages fly by, you'll be rooting for this curious combination of Harriet the Spy and Sherlock Holmes. Go ahead, take a bite. --Lauren Nemroff

A Q&A with Alan Bradley

Question: With the publication of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, you’ve become a 70-year-old-first time novelist. Have you always had a passion for writing, or is it more of a recent development?

Alan Bradley: Well, the Roman author Seneca once said something like this: “Hang on to your youthful enthusiasms--you’ll be able to use them better when you’re older.” So to put it briefly, I’m taking his advice.

I actually spent most of my life working on the technical side of television production, but would like to think that I’ve always been a writer. I started writing a novel at age five, and have written articles for various publications all my life. It wasn’t until my early retirement, though, that I started writing books. I published my memoir, The Shoebox Bible, in 2004, and then started working on a mystery about a reporter in England. It was during the writing of this story that I stumbled across Flavia de Luce, the main character in Sweetness.

Q: Flavia certainly is an interesting character. How did you come up with such a forceful, precocious and entertaining personality?

AB: Flavia walked onto the page of another book I was writing, and simply hijacked the story. I was actually well into this other book--about three or four chapters--and as I introduced a main character, a detective, there was a point where he was required to go to a country house and interview this colonel.

I got him up to the driveway and there was this girl sitting on a camp stool doing something with a notebook and a pencil and he stopped and asked her what she was doing and she said “writing down license number plates“ and he said “well there can't be many in such a place“ and she said, “well I have yours, don’t I? “ I came to a stop. I had no idea who this girl was and where she came from.

She just materialized. I can't take any credit for Flavia at all. I’ve never had a character who came that much to life. I’ve had characters that tend to tell you what to do, but Flavia grabbed the controls on page one. She sprung full-blown with all of her attributes--her passion for poison, her father and his history--all in one package. It surprised me.

Q: There aren’t many adult books that feature child narrators. Why did you want Flavia to be the voice of this novel?

AB: People probably wonder, “What’s a 70-year-old-man doing writing about an 11-year-old-girl in 1950s England? “ And it’s a fair question. To me, Flavia embodies that kind of hotly burning flame of our young years: that time of our lives when we’re just starting out, when anything--absolutely anything!--is within our capabilities.

I think the reason that she manifested herself as a young girl is that I realized that it would really be a lot of fun to have somebody who was virtually invisible in a village. And of course, we don’t listen to what children say--they’re always asking questions, and nobody pays the slightest attention or thinks for a minute that they’re going to do anything with the information that they let slip. I wanted Flavia to take great advantage of that. I was also intrigued by the possibilities of dealing with an unreliable narrator; one whose motives were not always on the up-and-up.

She is an amalgam of burning enthusiasm, curiosity, energy, youthful idealism, and frightening fearlessness. She’s also a very real menace to anyone who thwarts her, but fortunately, they don’t generally realize it.

Q: Like Flavia, you were also 11 years old in 1950. Is there anything autobiographical about her character?

AB: Somebody pointed out the fact that both Flavia and I lacked a parent. But I wasn’t aware of this connection during the writing of the book. It simply didn’t cross my mind. It is true that I grew up in a home with only one parent, and I was allowed to run pretty well free, to do the kinds of things I wanted. And I did have extremely intense interests then--things that you get focused on. When you’re that age, you sometimes have a great enthusiasm that is very deep and very narrow, and that is something that has always intrigued me--that world of the 11-year-old that is so quickly lost.

Q: Your story evokes such a vivid setting. Had you spent much time in the British countryside before writing this book?

AB: My first trip to England didn’t come until I went to London to receive the 2007 Debut Dagger Award, so I had never even stepped foot in the country at the time of writing Sweetness. But I have always loved England. My mother was born there. And I‘ve always felt I grew up in a very English household. I had always wanted to go and had dreamed for many years of doing so.

When I finally made it there, the England that I was seeing with my eyes was quite unlike the England I had imagined, and yet it was the same. I realized that the differences were precisely those differences between real life, and the simulation of real life, that we create in our detective novels. So this was an opportunity to create on the page this England that had been in my head my whole life.

Q: You have five more books lined up in this series, all coming from Delacorte Press. Will Flavia age as the series goes on?

AB: A bit, not very much. I think she’s going to remain in the same age bracket. I don’t really like the idea of Flavia as an older teenager. At her current age, she is such a concoction of contradictions. It's one of the things that I very much love about her. She's eleven but she has the wisdom of an adult. She knows everything about chemistry but nothing about family relationships. I don’t think she’d be the same person if she were a few years older. She certainly wouldn’t have access to the drawing rooms of the village.

Q: Do you have a sense of what the next books in the series will be about?

AB: The second book, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, is finished, and I’m working on the third book. I have a general idea of what’s happening in each one of the books, because I wanted to focus on some bygone aspect of British life that was still there in the '50s but has now vanished. So we have postage stamps in the first one... The second book is about the travelling puppet shows on the village green. And one of them is about filmmaking--it sort of harks back to the days of the classic Ealing comedies with Alec Guinness and so forth.

Q: Not every author garners such immediate success with a first novel. After only completing 15 pages of Sweetness, you won the Dagger award and within 8 days had secured book deals in 3 countries. You’ve since secured 19 countries. Enthusiasm continues to grow from every angle. How does it feel?

AB: It's like being in the glow of a fire. You hope you won't get burned. I’m not sure how much I’ve realized it yet. I guess I can say I‘m “almost overwhelmed”--I’m not quite overwhelmed, but I’m getting there. Every day has something new happening, and communications pouring in from people all over. The book has been receiving wonderful reviews and touching people. But Flavia has been touching something in people that generates a response from the heart, and the most often mentioned word in the reviews is love--how much people love Flavia and have taken her in as if she’s a long-lost member of their family, which is certainly very, very gratifying.

(Photo ? Jeff Bassett)

In his wickedly brilliant first novel, Debut Dagger Award winner Alan Bradley introduces one of the most singular and engaging heroines in recent fiction: eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. It is the summer of 1950—and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia’s family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life 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.”

To Flavia the investigation is the stuff of science: full of possibilities, contradictions, and connections. Soon her father, a man raising his three daughters alone, is seized, accused of murder. And in a police cell, during a violent thunderstorm, Colonel de Luce tells his daughter an astounding story—of a schoolboy friendship turned ugly, of a priceless object that vanished in a bizarre and brazen act of thievery, of a Latin teacher who flung himself to his death from the school’s tower thirty years before. Now Flavia is armed with more than enough knowledge to tie two distant deaths together, to examine new suspects, and begin a search that will lead her all the way to the King of England himself. Of this much the girl is sure: her father is innocent of murder—but protecting her and her sisters from something even worse….

An enthralling mystery, a piercing depiction of class and society, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a masterfully told tale of deceptions—and a rich literary delight.

From the Hardcover edition.

Customer Reviews:

  • If Agatha Christie Had a Fling With Evelyn Waugh...
    "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" might be their delightful love child. Similar in tone to Christie's Tommy and Tuppence mysteries (admittedly not my favorite of hers), "Sweetness" introduces us to eleven year old Flavia de Luce, a remarkably precocious chemistry prodigy, who lives on a rambling, decrepit estate in England with her widowed, absent-minded father and two older sisters. (Ophelia, the eldest, is comically referred to as "The Devil's Hairball.") The book is her first-person account of finding a dead body in the garden, and her subsequent unraveling of the mystery that follows. It's a smart, engaging, often laugh-out-loud entertainment.

    Bradley has a remarkable understanding of the way children think, act and feel. Here, for instance, is how Flavia describes a run down the street: "...arms outstretched, I dipped my wings and banked ninety degrees." Children have been doing that for years, but this is the first time I've ever encountered the action described with such accuracy and style. Or this gem of feminine intuition: "It's a fact of life that a girl can tell in a flash if another girl likes her...With a boy you never know whether he's smitten or gagging, but with a girl you can tell in three seconds. Between girls there is a silent and unending flow of invisible signals, like the high-frequency wireless message between the shore and ships at sea."

    Bradley's a master of the elegant metaphor. The moon "obligingly [comes] out from behind a cloud to illuminate the scene, much as it would in a first-rate production of A Midsummer Night's Dream;" a house "seem[s] unaware of my approach, as if I were an intruder creeping up on it"; a desk is "the size of a playing field, which might once have seen service in Scrooge and Marley's counting house"; a willow trees "long tendrils...[undulated] with a slightly expectant swishing, like a garish green theater curtain about to rise." At times Bradley allows his prose to become a little too metaphor heavy, but his writing scores more often than not.

    All that said, I wish "Sweetness" were a tighter read. Bradley can't quite sustain the novel's early promise, and the storytelling gets pretty flabby towards the end, particularly in a 40 page section in which absolutely nothing happens. Additionally, characters we think are going to be important disappear half-way through the book, and, for such a smart young woman, Flavia can sometimes seem rather dense, needing things spelled out for her that the reader's already guessed. In that regard especially, the mystery element of "Sweetness" could be stronger. Clues (some 30 years old) fall into Flavia's lap with far too much ease, and the villain was obvious quite early on. One hopes that in future installments, Bradley will, like his impetuous heroine, take greater risks.

    These are quibbles, however, not meant to dissuade you from spending time with Flavia. She's genuinely fun company, and I'm looking forward to finding out what scrapes she gets herself into next....more info
  • A splendid, entertaining read
    The brief description of the book immediately made me interested and I was intrigued to see what the story of an 11 year of crime solver would be like. I did balk a bit at the realization that the story would take place in England in the 1950's. I feared the book would be written with many English words and accents that would make the reading slower, but I was happy to see that it really didn't.

    The main character, Flavia, is brilliant, although at times she may seem a bit cruel towards her older sisters who are more interested in reading, makeup, music and boys. She basically knows how to push their buttons while seeming innocent at the time. She has a much softer heart towards her father and the gardener, Dogger. When someone is murdered in their yard, Flavia immediately gets secretly involved with figuring it all out, and the pace of the book moves quickly. The author is extremely adept at describing various scenes in the book, often doing so through the eyes of Flavia. For example here is a brief quote from Chapter 21 when Flavia is entering a building..."The floors were covered with cheap brown linoleum so pitted with gladiatorial gouges that it might have been salvaged from the Roman Colosseum. Whenever I stepped on one of its pustulent brown blisters, the stuff let off a nasty hiss and I made a mental note to find out if color can cause nausea.". I remember smiling when I read that as I could picture it clearly in my head. Flavia thinks like a much older person and she does not mince her thoughts either.

    Don't think that just because this is an 11 year old doing the solving, that it is a childish and simple crime to solve such that the story is simplistic or dumbed down. Not the case at all. There are the required twists and turns and surprising events and revelations. I also enjoyed the fact that the book could be G rated. There is no obscene language, nor any type of sexual material in the book at all. I would be fine with my 13 year old reading it if she so desired. That in itself was a rare treat.

    Admittedly the book did not emotionally grab me, there was noone to feel sorry for, or hope that they would conquer and prevail in the end. Flavia is such a strong character that you didn't doubt she would turn out okay in the end. That is not a bad thing, but it changes the feel of the book to me a bit. I think I would prefer to give this book 4.5 stars, but that is not an option.

    Overall I found it a fun read, the story moves along fast. I loved the Flavia character with her sarcasm and quick wit. Would I read a second Flavia book? Indeed, I would love to....more info
  • One of the year's most charming debuts
    Making his fiction debut at age seventy, Alan Bradley has crafted a charming novel that is sure to be one of the most loved mysteries of the year. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie introduces a delightful, intrepid, acid-tongued new heroine to the genre.

    Flavia de Luce, an eleven-year-old girl living in 1950s England, is an aspiring chemist, a lover of poisons and a terror to her older sisters. When she discovers a dead body in the garden of her family's estate, she adds another hat to her repertoire: detective.

    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie has a wonderfully entertaining plot, but it is Flavia that truly makes it shine. As this is only the first in what is projected to be a six-book series, readers are sure to enjoy the delights of Bradley and his creation for some time....more info
    This is a delightful book. The enchanting young lady Flavia is quite a character!! I would say this is a book suitable for young readers ( 10 to 16 years old) as well as adults. This young lady has countless adventures, gets into trouble, is smart as a whip yet she is also compassionate. Her discovery of a dead body in the garden starts her on a journey of many revalations some involving her family. Miss Flavia learns many a lesson from her adventures.This book will hold your interest. Congratulations on a fine book Mr. Bradley!...more info
  • Great new character
    This is a very delightful tale. If you love chemistry, mystery, England and solving crime, you will enjoy the journey. If you appreciate smart females and plays on words, you will LOVE it. I laughed out loud over and over. These characters are consistent, easy to picture, and full of flavor......more info
  • Clever chemical fun - 4.5
    With a title like "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie", it's hard not to get into the mood of the story immediately. A quirky, odd little book that ranges from hilarious to surprisingly insightful at times, "Sweetness" has an originality boost that is often lacking in novels.

    Characters are seen through 11-year old Flavia's eyes. Don't get the mistaken impression, though, that this is some child genius who sounds like an adult and behaves as such. Flavia is a clever young woman, smart in her field of chemistry, creative, sharp and generally quick-minded. And on the other hand, she's eleven - she bickers endlessly with her older sisters, throws herself into a crime situation as she is convinced that she must solve it, romps around the countryside on her nicknamed bike, and pulls stunts that fit any trouble-making kid. It's a voice that actually ends up sounding believable - author Alan Bradley doesn't need to strain in order to sound like this young girl.

    Other characters have their whimsy and wit too, even if they're much less developed. Flavia's elder sisters, Daphne and Ophelia, appear little in the book but leave a strong impression on the reader (via Flavia). Flavia's father is the brooding, dark figure in the coattails of the story, a figure mysterious even as he speaks (a fact Flavia herself recognizes and criticizes). Friends, family and acquaintances are described with just enough details to make them feel real, even if the central and reigning character is Flavia herself.

    This self-described "crime" novel is much more a strange, silly book than it is a thriller or a mystery. With the plot revolving around stamp collection (a chuckle in its own right) and the mystery marked by a murder (always good fun), it's a plot-driven tale that leaves the reader wanting a bit more. And not simply in that I'd like to see more stories with Flavia. Too often, Bradley falls into the "storytelling" formula, where one character narrates a long and descriptive speech that sounds unrealistic and bizarre. Twice in the story this occurs, and twice it feels vaguely off, taking a bit away from the overall charm of the story.

    On the whole, though, "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" is a book filled with clever chemistry fun. Chemistry lovers will appreciate Flavia's flair for the subject; mystery lovers will find the quirks and hilarities of the plot intriguing. It's a book to read in one intense setting (difficult to put down!) and it's one that has me looking forward to any upcoming installments in Flavia's life. Setting aside some quips in side-character development and narration, it's a really enjoyable book, worthy of a day devoted to entering Flavia's curious world. Warmly recommended, 4.5....more info
  • Flavia is Supposed to be How Old?
    I would have enjoyed this novel more if the heroine, Flavia de Luce, had borne more resemblance to a real 11-year-old girl. She is supposed to be brilliant and precocious, but I found myself constantly making excuses for why she often seemed more like Miss Marple than a kid. This disconnect is exacerbated because the book is in the first person. Somehow I don't think of a girl when I read sentences like "This was a kind of condescension with which I lived my life, and I probably laughed too loud." Her belief in Better Revenge Through Chemistry didn't make me like her any better, plus it had me wondering about the feasibility of her methods rather than turning the pages faster. The mystery itself is interesting enough, although slow-moving, and puzzling out the solution is both possible and enjoyable. I don't regret the time I spent with Flavia, but I am in no particular hurry to meet up with her again....more info
  • Harriet the Spy for grownups
    When I read the next installment of the series (available soon, I hope), I will read it with paper and pencil beside me. Practically every page is chock full of references to things I'd like to explore further, and next time around I don't want to lose track of any of them. What exactly are acid drops? Was there really an assassination attempt against Queen Victoria in 1840? Has anyone written a biography of Madame Lavoisier?

    Our heroine Flavia is feisty, smart and deliciously vindictive. Every place a cliche might have crept in, the author has managed to come up with a funny and unexpected turn of phrase. With all the historical references, unique characters and skillful descriptions of Flavia's stomping grounds, there are many more layers to this book than your usual humorous or cozy mystery. Oh, and you don't need to understand chemistry to enjoy the book.
    ...more info
  • How about another slice?
    Flavia de Luce is an absolute delight. At age eleven, she divides her days between tormenting her other sisters and concocting the perfect poison. It's no wonder, then, that she takes finding a dead body in the cucumber patch with almost perfect aplomb. Immediately, she abandons her chemistry lab and turns to solving the mystery the man's death. Flavia is obviously well-educated, as both her vocabulary and her knowledge of chemistry attest, and this caused me to have moments of forgetting she was only eleven. Then she would get into a squabble with one of her sisters, and I would be reminded of her age.

    The novel is a quick and fun read, mostly because Flavia does not rest until the mystery is resolved. I look forward to the next adventure of Flavia de Luce!...more info
  • Artemis Fowl as a murder solving chemist
    I got this book through the Amazon vine program. People who have described this as Artemis Fowl as a chemist who solves mysteries are right on the mark. So far it looks like the author has at least two more books coming out in this series; one in 2010 and one in 2011. This was an enjoyable book overall.

    Flavia is character that will put many people in mind of Artemis Fowl (Artemis Fowl, Book 1) or Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris. She is a child genius that believes she knows it all; with this book though there are some marked differences from the aforementioned series. Flavia loves chemistry; and as I myself am a chemist this aspect of the book delighted me, it was great to read about the chemistry and how it was involved in the murder in the book. If anyone is really interested in the chemistry of poison: The Molecules of Murder: Criminal Molecules and Classic Cases is a very entertaining non-fiction read. Anyway, back to the book...some other differences are that the adults in this book are actually very intelligent and quite crafty in their own right; a change from the mentioned series where adults commonly act like buffoons. Also Flavia is a fairly believable character; she makes mistakes that a girl her age would make; even though she is a genius, she is not a genius at everything.

    For the most part the book was well-written and fast-paced. The only problem I had with the book is that there were a ton of points were Flavia made poor assumptions and then she would figure it out and then the plot would twist in a different direction. This would have been okay if it had only happened once, but the plot twists (and Flavia's mistakes) were so numerous that it made the storyline a bit disjointed and at times a bit confusing to follow. I think this twisting also interrupted the flow of the story; which in general was good but towards the end of the book got kind of forced and contrived.

    Overall it was an interesting read. I loved the that chemistry was involved in it. It would have been nice to have an afterword from the author stating how accurate all of the chemistry was and where he did his chemical research; but that is just the scientist in me speaking. I do not know if I will read any more books in this series though; Flavia did kind of get on my nerves with how often she was mistaken about things despite being a genius....more info
  • I Absolutely Loved This Book!
    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is the most well written book I've read in a while. The dual murder/suicide mystery is itself intriguing, but the richness of the main character, Flavia, has caused me to recommend this book to everyone I know who can read. I have bought several additional copies of this book and doled them out to dear friends.

    When eleven year old Flavia finds a dying man in her family's cucumber patch, one who whispers the word "vale!" to her in his dying breath, she sets out to solve the mystery and to protect her father, who is the prime suspect.

    As Flavia searches for the truth, she discovers the current murder is inextricably tied to both the antiquated theft and destruction of a priceless stamp during her father's childhood, and the suicide of one of his school teachers.

    When Flavia finally unravels the mystery, she meets face to face with the murderer in a battle for her life....more info
  • Good mystery, if you can accept 11 year-old's expertise
    This book is "Home Alone" for the literary set. Just as Macaulay Culkin's character in "Home Alone" is unbelievably capable for his age, so, too is this book's heroine and crime solver, Flavia de Luce. In the aging manor house her family is heir to, Flavia has a chemistry lab to rivel any seen on CSI...and knows how to use it and the chemicals in it. She boils, she extracts, she distills and her favorite endeavor in this area? Poisons. Despite this level of expertise being somewhat hard to swallow, if you can suspend disbelief over this one aspect of the story, the rest unfolds pleasantly enough. In lieu of a car, Flavia bicycles the countryside and deftly weaves the clues together to solve the crime.

    Chemistry buffs will appreciate the terminolgy and stamp collectors will enjoy the fact that stamps and, in particular, two stamps of extraordinary rarity, are at the heart of this mystery. ...more info
  • Excellent book
    I picked up an advanced copy and just finished the book, being a first book from an author I wasn't sure what to expect. The reviews of other readers were encouraging though. I love the characters, the development, and the story. There wasn't a lot of twists for a mystery, but the writing was incredible. Being a chemist I appreciated the more 'technical' talk and think it added greatly to the story. I know a few people didn't think the story seemed to come from an 11 year old's perspective and maybe it was a little advanced for an 11 year old. Conversely, I remember my grandfather telling me of all the things he played with as a child and all the books he read as a kid, we've really dumbed-down what's now available to our kids in the name of safety and promotional tie-ins.

    I am really looking forward to Alan Bradley's next book. ...more info
  • One of the year's most charming debuts
    Making his fiction debut at age seventy, Alan Bradley has crafted a charming novel that is sure to be one of the most loved mysteries of the year. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie introduces a delightful, intrepid, acid-tongued new heroine to the genre.

    Flavia de Luce, an eleven-year-old girl living in 1950s England, is an aspiring chemist, a lover of poisons and a terror to her older sisters. When she discovers a dead body in the garden of her family's estate, she adds another hat to her repertoire: detective.

    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie has a wonderfully entertaining plot, but it is Flavia that truly makes it shine. As this is only the first in what is projected to be a six-book series, readers are sure to enjoy the delights of Bradley and his creation for some time....more info
  • Yes, it was devastating
    Flavia de Luce is not your average eleven-year-old -- she's unself-consciously precocious, clever, literate, and has a passion for poisons. And she's a suitably quirky heroine for "The Sweetness At the Bottom of the Pie," an intriguing little murder mystery set in the required country mansion in the years following World War II. It could have all been horribly precious (especially Flavia), but Alan Bradley succeeds in making it both a clever puzzle and a snippet of English rural life.

    First, a dead bird with a stamp on its beak appears in front of Flavia's house. Then, she finds a dying man in the garden who says one word ("Vale") before expiring.

    Unfortunately, she also heard the dead man having a heated conversation with her father the day before, in which they talked about murdering someone called Twining. So she begins her own investigation in the village, learning of an apparent suicide from 1920 that her father was involved in -- and she rapidly discovers strange clues involving a pie crust, a bunch of vials, and a creepy village librarian.

    When the police arrest her father, Flavia steps up her investigation -- including an interview with her jailed father that reveals more about the cruel murdered man, a collection of rare stamps, and events that led to Mr. Twining's suicide. Now sure that her dad isn't guilty, Flavia must uncover what really happened -- and her poisonous knowledge might come in handy.

    The highest praise I can give Alan Bradley's debut novel is that it leaves me craving more of Flavia de Luce's under-the-radar detective work. "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" has just the right mix of the mysterious, macabre, and deliciously quirky -- any novel that has the heroine casually dissecting religious paintings by the chemical substances in each color has got to be a winner.

    And Bradley has a pleasant style that unfolds slowly and smoothly, full of pastoral beauty, old ancestral mansions and descriptions both odd (an old woman's eyes are "like two mad raisins in her wrinkled face") and vivid ("his hands shaking like aspen leaves in autumn, his face the color of sodden ashes"). And despite the serious business of figuring out whodunnit and what is up with the stamps, Bradley inserts some lighthearted interludes where Flavia has fun tormenting her sisters (and occasionally melting down their lipsticks).

    Flavia herself is an ideal heroine for this book -- she's precocious and clever without having her character practically shriek, "Look at me! Look at how smart and unusual and QUIRKY I am! Adore me! Be impressed!" She comes across as a very cool-headed and fun character -- particularly her spooky fascination with toxic substances. And attention is paid as well to the other members of the small cast, whether it's the condescending inspector, a shellshocked gardener, or Flavia's rather airheaded older sisters.

    "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" leaves you hungry not for pie, but for any other adventures Alan Bradley may have in mind for Flavia de Luce. Vale!...more info
  • Droll and Engaging
    Eleven year old Flavia de Luce is already a skilled chemist, thanks to the laboratory at Buckshaw, the de Luce family home. And her shrewd powers of observation make her an excellent private eye. When a stranger is found dead on the family property, Flavia springs in to action, and in the process of investigating the murder, unravels a mystery that's haunted her father since his youth.

    This novel takes place in early 1950s Britain. But it's a quaint Britain with an almost fantastical quality to it; it reminded me of the parallel Britain in Jasper Ffordes' novels. Flavia is a wonderful heroine; I hope this book is the first of a series. ...more info
  • Almost great
    I really wanted this book to be super great. A mystery novel featuring a brilliant, funny, eleven-year-old heroine sounds appealing to me, and Flavia is a great protagonist, but the book is only good, not great. Several times I caught myself checking to see how many pages to the end of the chapter. I just didn't get to that place where you lose all sense of time and get completely lost in the book; I'm not quite sure why. Perhaps Flavia's emotional distance from her family (and all other characters, too, except maybe Dogger) carries over to her relationship with the reader? I will definitely give the second book in this series a try, though; I remain hopeful that Flavia and I will become friends. Good writing, interesting characters and places, and the science of detection all satisfy....more info
  • Bottomless Delight
    In 1954, a writer named William March (now lost to memory) created a chilling portrait of a diabolical child named Rhoda Penmark. So successful was his story that no less a playwright than Maxwell Anderson (look him up) adapted the tale to an award winning play that, by 1956, was made into a quite forgettable (and not good) movie by Mervyn LeRoy (some of the blame for which must go to the production code). The book, the play, and the movie, are now long gone. But the title lives on in popular jargon... "The Bad Seed". Bad seed stories are always popular. Whether it's Rhoda, or Damian, or Lolita (not really a Bad seed, more "misunderstood"... and dumb) or Piggy or... well, you get the point. And throughout the genre (if genre it be) we are always possessed with a single thought: "These kids are so cleverly diabolical, so intriguing, so bright (save, Lolita), wouldn't it be great if they used their powers for good?" Say hello to Flavia de Luce! True, Flavia is a bit older than most (11) and she doesn't make a fetish of using her powers ONLY for good (keep your eyes on the lipstick), but she IS the smartest, cleverest (they're not the same), wittiest, and most charming (semi) bad seed, well, EVER! And if you're ever in trouble, you'd want her on your side! Set in England in 1950 (i.e. just after the "good" war) "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" is a brilliant introduction to what, one can only hope, will be a memorable series of crime stories. Oh, and despite it's heroine's age, like the other above-referenced characters, Flavia's story is NOT a kid's book. ...more info
  • Fun story!
    Ok, over all, I really enjoyed this book.

    But, at first, I just couldn't get into it. It dragged on for me in the beginning and it was hard for me to pick it up. And when I did read it, I could only get through a few pages before I got bored.

    I'm so glad I stuck it out through the beginning. The book turned out to be a very good read.

    The characters are fun, the story line is interesting and it ended up having just the right amount of everything that a good mystery should have.

    I could really do without the parts with the sisters, but everything else really pulled me into the story and I got hooked. I read the last hundred pages or so in one (long) sitting! At that point, I didn't want to stop!...more info
  • You had me at "Suck My Galoshes"
    Flavia is an extraordinary narrator and this is an extraordinary book. Full of life and intrigue--not to mention the cheeky exuberance of youth--Sweetness of the Bottom of the Pie is a must-read, especially for those who enjoyed The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime....more info
  • What a wonderful, fun and quirky mystery!
    This mystery focused on the life and times of Flavia de Luce is an excellent addition to the genre. The opening is strong, and I found myself immediately drawn to the (possibly homicidal) young protagonist. The book is filled with strange and not always sympathetic characters that draw the reader into Flavia's almost surreal landscape. I thought the plot was well-drawn, and even though I guessed the identity of the villain, I needed to keep reading just to learn more about how Flavia would solve the mystery. An excellent effort that could easily turn into the beginning of a series; I for hope to read more about young Flavia de Luce!...more info
  • Sweetness Comes Easily With a New Author
    If you're looking for a fun read that you can share among your entire family, then get Alan Bradley's book! How often do you get to find a young protagonist, a compelling murder mystery and forensics all in one great package? Not often enough! I couldn't put this book down and by the end, I was wanting way more! Flavia de Luce is one of the most memorable characters in recent fiction--she's more refined that Encyclopedia Brown ever was and far more inquisitive!

    When I was young, I loved all the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Books, Hardy Boys and Harriet the Spy still remains one of my favorite characters. But Flavia certainly ranks up there as a true genius. Bradley's writing is fast paced and offers up that rare book that both adults and teens will love.

    I cannot wait for the next book!...more info
  • Great Characters, Great Setting, Great Fun!
    For those of us who are passionate mystery readers, a promising new series is like getting a birthday present. You can't rip into it fast enough but you're praying all the while that it will just what you're hoping for.

    "Sweetness" is almost good enough. The characters are great, especially the lead Flavia, and her passion for poisons is hysterical good fun. And the first five pages are the best start to a novel that I've read in years. The mystery is not quite as engaging as it could be, and the storytelling is a little erratic -- but I still have loads of fun reading it, and will jump to buy the sequel....more info
  • Absolutly Delightful...
    Alan Bradley's debut novel was an incredibly SWEET treat to feast my eyes on. It had that perfect mix of history, mystery and a severely precocious eleven year old narrator.

    Flavia de Luce is one of literature's great new juvenile characters. She's got a bit of mad scientist in her, a dash of sherlock holmes thrown in and a strange penchant for making her two sisters miserable. She and her sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, live with their father in Buckshaw, an English country manor. The era and feel of the novel gave off a slightly demented "Secret Garden" vibe to it.

    The story revolves mainly around two murders that have taken place. One that took place 30 years in the past and the other occurring right off the bat. There are plenty of odd little twists and turns as Flavia mindfully tries to solve the murders (while laughably trying to poison her own sisters!) and readers will find this debut novel utterly charming and fast paced. I loved the quirkiness of Flavia yet couldn't help but find her excruciatingly creepy at times (in a good way!!) and can't wait to hear more from this author!

    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie nostalgically whisks readers away to an era long gone. The author makes you feel JUST enough disconnection for the long-ago time period to feel the captivation that is needed for entertainment and gives us a fresh and vibrant tween protagonist that readers will root for. ...more info
  • I liked it.
    This novel is a tough one to review. I liked it, hence the 3 star rating, but I cannot say that I am over the moon about it.
    Flavia is an interesting and precocious protagonist who is older in her head than her 11 years. She is an avid student of chemistry, doesn't shy from a challenge, and has a knack for quoting Shakespeare.

    This being said, the novel is a quaint one, set in the 50's of the English countryside and smacking of a ideological lense with which to view it through. Flavis is tormented by an absent father who is the proverbial "man behind the newspaper", and two sisters who have sinister intentions at every turn.

    Throughout her investigation, Flavis is presented with clues, help, and fortuitous circumstance at each turn, when needed the most. I suppose that in this novel it makes sense- how else is an 11 year old prodigy to solve a crime when a bicycle is her mode of transportation?

    All in all, I liked the novel but at times it seemed to be a bit flowery and too descriptive. The protagonist was well written but a bit too pretentious for my tastes. Alan Bradley has written a good novel, but unfortunately one that I just haven't fallen in love with. A good read, by all means, but not a "must-read" by any....more info