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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery Paperback – January 19, 2010


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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery + The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag: A Flavia de Luce Novel + A Red Herring Without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel
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Product Details

  • Series: Flavia de Luce
  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam; Reprint edition (January 19, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385343493
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385343497
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (731 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,807 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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)

--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Fans of Louise Fitzhugh's iconic Harriet the Spy will welcome 11-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce, the heroine of Canadian journalist Bradley's rollicking debut. In an early 1950s English village, Flavia is preoccupied with retaliating against her lofty older sisters when a rude, redheaded stranger arrives to confront her eccentric father, a philatelic devotee. Equally adept at quoting 18th-century works, listening at keyholes and picking locks, Flavia learns that her father, Colonel de Luce, may be involved in the suicide of his long-ago schoolmaster and the theft of a priceless stamp. The sudden expiration of the stranger in a cucumber bed, wacky village characters with ties to the schoolmaster, and a sharp inspector with doubts about the colonel and his enterprising young detective daughter mean complications for Flavia and enormous fun for the reader. Tantalizing hints about a gardener with a shady past and the mysterious death of Flavia's adventurous mother promise further intrigues ahead. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Alan Bradley received the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger Award for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, his first novel, which went on to win the Agatha Award, the Barry Award, the Dilys Award, the Arthur Ellis Award, the Macavity Award and the Spotted Owl Award. He is the author of many short stories, children's stories, newspaper columns, and the memoir The Shoebox Bible. He co-authored Ms. Holmes of Baker Street with the late William A.S. Sarjeant. Bradley lives in Malta with his wife and two calculating cats. His sixth Flavia de Luce mystery, "The Dead In Their Vaulted Arches" will be published in the US and Canada on January 14, 2014, and in the UK on March 3.

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Customer Reviews

I love the delightful main character 11 year old Flavia De Luce.
Bonnie K Spamer
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.
*rose*
All in all, I liked the novel but at times it seemed to be a bit flowery and too descriptive.
C.E.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

243 of 255 people found the following review helpful By delicateflower152 TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 27, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" is a simple mystery, written without explicit violence, sexual situations, or terrorists. The book is filled with humor that is delightful, very tongue-in-cheek and very British. The mystery is solved; its solution is arrived at through intelligent thinking and resourcefulness. The characters are interesting and develop distinct personalities through the course of the story.

Flavia de Luce, heroine of "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" is an intrepid young lady with a penchant for poisons. Arsenic and its antidotes are her special interests. A brilliant, budding chemist, she is also an all-around persistent protagonist who insists on inserting herself into every situation!

Flavia's family consists of her reclusive, eccentric father and two older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne. Her mother, Harriet, was an adventurer who died tragically during a mountain climbing expedition. Of the three sisters, Flavia believes herself to be most like her mother. The core family is completed by Mrs. Mullet, the cook/housekeeper, and Dogger, a former soldier who served with Mr. deLuce. Having served in a number of positions during his employment with the de Luces, Dogger is now the gardner. He is also Flavia's confidante and mentors her in useful skills such as lockpicking.

Intelligent preteens will find in Flavia someone with whom they can identify. Individuals seeking an entertaining read which does not require intense concentration will sail through this novel. As this is the first in a series, I will be interested to see how the characters develop and whether Bradley can resist succumbing to the formula mystery genre to which so many authors fall prey.
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157 of 176 people found the following review helpful By Red Rock Bookworm TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 4, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie features a precocious 11 year old named Flavia DeLuce who possesses a love of chemistry, a passionate obsession with poisons, a bicycle named Gladys, and a talent for deductive reasoning. (Could our Flavia somehow be the adolescent female version of Sherlock Holmes?) For all her intelligence Falvia also demonstrates her childish "get even" mentality as illustrated by the revenge she wreaks on he older sisters.

I will admit that it took a couple of chapters for me to warm up to the unusual group of folks living at the decrepit country mansion called Buckshaw. The family dynamic is unusual to say the least, and the vocabulary and knowledge pouring forth from Flavia as she narrates the story takes a little getting used to. Perhaps I was a bit jealous and somewhat intimidated by all the scientific knowledge this little "smart-aleck" had to impart, or could it have been that I found myself imagining what it would be like to live in a household inhabited by Flavia and the dysfunctional cast of characters that surrounded her. If I still smoked, that thought alone would have found me reaching for a "gasper".

Author, Alan Bradley has managed to give his readers an unconventional protagonist, a creative, somewhat amusing and intriguing story, as well as multiple mysteries to solve. Written for the adult reader, Flavia is definitely more Nero Wolfe than Nancy Drew. Just abandon logic and reality, hop aboard Gladys and take a bumpy ride back to 1950's England with Flavia DeLuce, girl sleuth. 31/2 stars
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful By J. Green VINE VOICE on May 22, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Yes, this is a book written for grown ups and yes, the main character is 11 years old. Flavia de Luce has a passion for poison, the vocabulary of an adult, and a bicycle named Gladys. Her mother died climbing mountains in the Himalayas and her father, Colonel de Luce, is just about as distant, showing more interest in his stamp collection than his daughters. It's part of the whole English reluctance to show affection and keeping a stiff upper lip, or something like that...

But things get shaken up a bit when a dead blackbird shows up on the porch at Buckshaw (the old mansion where the de Luces live) with a penny stamp stuck to it's beak. The next morning Flavia finds a dead man in the cucumber patch - well, he's not dead yet, but expires with a final word: "Vale." But who was he, and more important, who killed him? Was it the Colonel who had secretly argued with the stranger the night before, or Dogger, the dependable but unstable gardener (who still suffers from his experiences in Japanese POW camps)? Maybe he died from eating a slice of Mrs. Mullet's horrible cream pie? Whoever it was, Flavia is determined to find out with the help of her chemistry knowledge and Gladys.

In spite of a slow start, this was really an enjoyable read. It has a style that reminded me of Alan Bennett's "The Uncommon Reader." It's what the English like to call "wickedly funny," which apparently means that it's funny in a clever and witty way with a good helping of subtle sarcasm. And it's certainly all of those.
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