Monday, April 11, 2011

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley

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.


Barbara H. said...

I don't read kid's books much these days, but this sounds interesting.

Annette W. said...

I do like subtle humor. (I used to say that I "got" the joke that no one else did in the movie theater since I'd be the only one laughing! Really, I'm not sure that is so true.)

I will check out Alan Bradley!

Jennifer said...

The thing I like about it is that it isn't written for kids, but a child is the heroine. I have the second one sitting on my shelf...waiting. :)

Carrie said...

Barbara H. - No, definitely not a kid's book. (Definitely not unclean either.) It's written for adults but has a child for the heroine, as Jennifer said.

Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I have this one in my library basket RIGHT NOW! It's my next read after I finish the Newbery honor book I just started. I'm excited!

Janet said...

Where have I heard of this one?

I know you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I like the cover on this one. :-) Thanks for the review -- sounds interesting!

A Faithful Journey said...

I have been curious about this book ever since seeing it on the shelves at B&N.
The only thing that concerns me is when you say it is not "unclean" either. Is the language bad...or are you referring to the sibling rivalry?
Sounds like something I *may* have to pick up.
Thanks for the detailed review! :)

Stephanie said...

I may have to try this one again. :) I started it some time ago and was put off by the sisterly disagreements. I liked the mystery though! You've convinced me to give it another shot. :)

Alison said...

I saw several great reviews of this book months ago. When I finally got around to reading it, I felt like it was a slow starting book. Maybe that's just me. In the end I enjoyed it, but it wasn't the "great" I was expecting. I want to read the rest of the books, but haven't had the time yet.

Lisa Spence said...

Yes, a highly enjoyable read! So glad you liked it. I'd love to read more of Flavia's adventures!

Shonya said...

This sounds like a nice, fun read--after I finish the four "heavy" books I'm currently reading! lol I'm ready for a fun read again. . .

Anonymous said...

A caution to you that the sibling rivalry does not go away in the next 2 books and the 3rd book delves into Flavia's distant relationships a little bit more.

New follower from Semicolon.

Barbara H. said...

I just finished this and posted my review and wanted to come back and read this one again. I agree with pretty much everything except it does have language that would bother some, depending on where they draw lines there - a lot of damns, hells, and damnations, most of them coming from Flavia herself. I found that off-putting as well as her penchant for lying. But there was much I did like about her, and I found the writing clever and engaging.

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