The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley, was recommended to me by Lisa at Lisa Writes sometime back. She was pretty sure I'd like it and I was pretty sure she was right! I stuck it on my Amazon list but then found a hardback copy at Goodwill (for half the price!) and so snatched it up.
I'm trying to figure out how to describe Alan Bradley's writing style and the closest author I can liken him to is Wodehouse. Except for Bradley is more subtle. Maybe he's more like Whitehouse in the way he puts together certain phrases and sentences which make you chuckle. But again, more subtle. It might be the fact that he is a Canadian that tones him down a bit from being an outright humorist but let's just say that his writing style made me chuckle a time or two and generally kept a smile on my face.
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery is the first in what appears to be a series of murder mystery books in which Flavia de Luce, age 11, is our hero. (Think a younger Nancy Drew but more believable. If you can believe that.) In this particular story, we are introduced to the de Luce family and young Miss Flavia, who discovers a stranger dying in the family's cucumber patch outside her bedroom window. This discovery doesn't gross Flavia out, rather it excites her to solve the mystery of who the stranger is and who killed him. Suspect number one is her father, who she had caught arguing with the stranger the night of his death.
There are plenty of plot twists and turns so I'm not going to talk much more about the mystery which is this book. You'll have to read it yourself if you want to know more. Suffice it to say, I was riveted to the plot and finished up this 370 page murder mystery in two days flat. The story sucks you in and keeps you there, page after page.
What will make you like Flavia? She is a pretty spunky and smart eleven year old. She absolutely adores chemistry and delights in spending time in her homemade lab on the family's English estate. Flavia's mother died shortly after Flavia was born and she has no memories of her. Instead of referring to her mother in that term, she calls her by her first name, Harriet, whenever discussing her. Flavia lives with her two sisters, father, a loyal gardener and a rather poor cook. She is generally left alone to peruse her own interests. She reacts and responds to the murder investigation as you might suspect an eleven year old sleuth to do, except that she is constantly beating the police to the punch.
Her family relationships are kind of distant but she pulls out a decent relationship with her father, as she shows more maturity throughout her own personal investigation process.
What would make you not like Flavia? The family dynamic and interpersonal relationships are rather bothersome. Flavia and her sisters do. not. get. along. At all. Her two older sisters pal around and seem to be close chums but for some unnamed reason they despise Flavia and she them. It's the worst case of sibling dysfunction I've ever read in a book (although I suppose there are worst case scenarios.) This was the most disturbing aspect of the book and I kept hoping that their relationships with one another would heal but no suck luck. I was glad that Flavia didn't spend very much time around them. I cringed over every single interaction that they had and forced myself to ignore them after a time, realizing that there wasn't going to be a happy ending in that regard.
Some people might not be bothered at all by those relationship issues, but they did bother me and so I mention it.
On the whole though, I would say that this mystery was delightful. Perhaps "on the line delightful" at times, but it is a clean read without any gore, language or explicit-anything-at-all. The fact that the main character is eleven no doubt helps preserve a certain cleanliness about the book and I do appreciate that because it makes the book both approachable and readable.
For a murder mystery, I really enjoyed this (skipping past the sister scenes) and would recommend it with the one caution of the sibling rivalry. Otherwise, prepare to be amused and kept guessing as to who did what and why.
I would definitely be interested in reading more Flavia de Luce mysteries. Mystery isn't my top-genre but when in the mood, I'd certainly pick up another. Other titles in the series: The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, A Red Herring Without Mustard (just released) and the fourth title, I Am Half Sick of Shadows was just announced.