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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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"A wickedly clever story, a dead true and original voice, and an English country house in the summer: Alexander McCall Smith meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Please, please, Mr. Bradley, tell me we'll be seeing Flavia again soon?"—Laurie R. King, author of the Mary Russell series
“Alan Bradley’s marvelous book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, is a fantastic read, a winner. Flavia walks right off the page and follows me through my day. I can hardly wait for the next book. Bravo!” –Louise Penny, author of Still Life
“The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie offers the reader the precious gift of a richly imagined and luscious new world–but uniquely so, for this is the world of Flavia Sabina de Luce: an eleven-year-old, utterly winning, and altogether delightfully nasty piece of work. An outright pleasure from beginning to end.”—Gordon Dahlquist¸ author of The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters
"Alan Bradley brews a bubbly beaker of fun in his devilishly clever, wickedly amusing debut mystery, launching an eleven-year-old heroine with a passion for chemistry–and revenge! What a delightful, original book!"—Carolyn Hart, author of the Death on Demand series
“Utterly charming! Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce proves to be one of the most precocious, resourceful, and well, just plain dangerous, heroines around. Evildoers–and big sisters–beware!”—Lisa Gardner, author of Say Goodbye
"Flavia is an engagingly smart new sleuth with a flair for bringing out the child–and the detective–in all of us."—Christopher Fowler, author of the Peculiar Crimes Unit series
“Sure in its story, pace and voice, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie deliciously mixes all the ingredients of great storytelling. The kind of novel you can pass on to any reader knowing their pleasure it assured.”—Andrew Pyper, author of the The Killing Circle
“Told through the observations of science-experimenting snoop of an 11-year-old girl, this jolly-good-fun murder mystery is as indulgent as a Bunty annual. Flavia de Luce, daughter to a philatelist colonel father and late mother, who dies when she was a baby, finds a body in the cucumber patch. In the twists and turns that ensue, centering around the nesting habits of the snipe and the last word of the dead man, she proves herself as indomitable a sleuth as you would expect a girl who says “Oh, piffle” to be.—Good Housekeeping, UK
“In June 1950’s, very-nearly-eleven year old Flavia de Luce, rising above the torments of her two older sisters and plotting revenge in her Victorian chemistry lab, is intrigued by the mystery of snipe with a rare stamp in its beak, found on the doorstep of the crumbling de Luce country seat. And she is astonished by the effect the dead bird has on her stamp-obsessed father, the Colonel. When something much worse is found in the cucumber patch and family secrets begin to unravel, Flavia has to use all her deductive powers to solve a mystery and a crime. At once precocious and endearing, Flavia is a marvelous character. Quirkily appealing, this is definitely a crime novel with a difference.” –Choice Magazine, “Book of the Month.”
“Brilliant, irresistible and incorrigible, Flavia has a long future ahead of her…Bradley’s mystery debut is a standout. “—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Fun for the reader…. Fans of Louise Fitzhugh's iconic Harriet the Spy will welcome 11-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce, the heroine of … Bradley's rollicking debut.”—Publishers Weekly
“A delightful whodunit.…hilarious, eccentric and mischievous.”—Tangled Web, UK
“An absolute treat. It is original, clever, entertaining and funny….an extraordinary maze of mystery and intrigue…driving the reader to turn those pages in glorious anticipation….a terrific book, so different to anything.”—Material Witness
“Oh how astonishing and pleasing is genuine originality!....I simply cannot recall the last time I so enjoyed being the company of a first-person narrator….Bradley has a simply astonishing gift for putting simile and analogy in Flavia’s mouth…the plot is a splendid piece of hokum with some pleasing deduction and an excellent historical back-story….This is a book which triumphantly succeeds in its objectives of charming and delighting. And on top of that it is genuinely original….we may well be talking in a few years about one of the great voices and great series of mystery fiction. I resort to — and it is very, very rarely that I use this — that old cliché, a must-read.” –Reviewing the Evidence
“A wonderfully written, engaging novel….It’s rare that a book of which I feel quite passionately enraptured crosses my desk, and this is one of those special books that fully deserves five stars. The plot is well-paced, the dialogue is thoughtful and succinct, and being inside the head of Flavia de Luce is delightful. Her wry, dry humour and resigned frustration with the adult world are seriously entertaining….I loved her to bits.” –Oh Baby Magazine, NZ
“Delightfully entertaining.” –The Guardian, UK
“The first page…is so delicious, that I actually had to stop in the middle of The Girl Who Played with Fire to read the rest of it. Flavia deserves the Nobel Prize for Chemistry and Alan Bradley the Edgar Award. Does anyone collect stamps anymore?” –Paul Ingram
“If there ever was a heroine set for stardom it would be Flavia de Luce….Think Agatha Christie crossed with the Mitfords and laced with mischievous humour.” –Sunday Herald, Australia
“If you condensed Sherlock Holmes’s deductive abilities, Madame Curie’s talent for chemistry, and Dr. Jekyll’s zeal into the mind of an 11-year-old, her name would be Flavia de Luce….full of mystery, charm, and chemistry. Its quick-witted dialogue, tongue-in-cheek humour and colourful characters will linger long after the book is back on the shelf.”—Discovery Channel, in print
“She’s a fictional 11-year-old girl detective living in England in 1950. He’s a very real 70-year-old retired television engineer living today in Kelowna, B.C. Together they are soaring to great heights in the international literary world.”—Ottawa Citizen
“Bradley adroitly brews a biting yet empathetic read that’s anchored in the English countryside and public schools, and haunted by secrets. His fresh and innovative Flavia de Luce…is a new voice that’s brilliant and fierce, funny and vulnerable….I couldn’t read the book fast enough…Another serving, please!” –Marie Ary, Seattle Mystery Bookshop; Seattle, Washington
“Amazingly entertaining…The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie introduces a charming and engaging sleuth.”—Booklist, starred review
“A fresh, engaging first novel.”—Library Journal
Praise from the Debut Dagger Award Judges of the UK Crime Writers’ Association:
"Really adored the voice of the characters in this- especially Flavia, the spirited main protagonist- and the sense of place is beautifully described, particularly when telling the history of the house and its inhabitants. The family unit, comprising of the taciturn, introspective Colonel and his three daughters is well written, humorous and the sibling relationships very realistic. The author should be praised for creating a work that has nostalgic interest as well as a murder mystery, in places this almost reads like an Enid Blyton novel for adults!"
"I adored this! Our heroine is refreshingly youthful, funny and sharp and the author creates such a strong sense of time and place. Flavia’s eccentric family are delightful and I love seeing them interact within their crazy home. There are also interesting depths to the plot — the stamp collecting, the chemistry experiments, and the acknowledgement of past events and how they have affected these characters. The author’s tone is very tongue-in-cheek and offers something quite different in this genre, and the story is cleverly structured and beautifully written. This doesn’t read like a first novel. Assuming the mystery itself will be as enticing and smoothly handled as the opening, I can see Flavia solving crimes into adulthood. Great title too!"
"The most original of the bunch, I think, with a deliciously deceptive opening which really sets the tone of macabre fun. Flavia is a wonderful creation, along with the rest of her eccentric family, and makes for a highly engaging sleuth. Think the Mitfords, as imagined by Dorothy L Sayers. The plot, with its intriguing philatelic elements, is nicely ingenious and delivers a very good end, with a fun twist. Would make very good Sunday night telly, I think."
About the Author
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Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce novels in order:
1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, 1/2010
2. The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, 2/2011
3. A Red Herring Without Mustard, 10/2011
4. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, 10/2012
5. Speaking from Among the Bones, 12/2013
6. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, 1/2014
7. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, 1/2015
I've been missing out! I should have discovered this series ages ago. Oh well, I shall work on remedying that and catching up on the rest of the Flavia books pronto because Flavia is one plucky, precocious girl with just the right touch of crazy misfit. In her case, the misfit comes in the form of not really connecting with her older sisters and of having a better understanding of Chemistry than most college graduates; the crazy comes in a penchant for poisons. Though this series is relatively new, it has all the feel of an old classic by Sayles or Christie. I liked the 1950 England setting, as most mysteries either hit right during WWII or earlier, and it's nice to see a different era. And the mystery itself was written very well. I fully expected it to be about to wrap up when I was less than halfway through, but then it got deeper and more complex, and it definitely kept me guessing (though I did figure out who done it before Flavia). I'll definitely be reading the rest of this series.
Notes on content: A handful of minor swear words and about 5 strong British swear words. No sex scenes. A maid talks about a man grabbing her from behind and it is hinted he does more, but she is talking to Flavia so that's all that is explained. Two deaths are described, one is not bloody at all, the other is but the injuries are not described at all. Violence is threatened at one point, but not carried out.
Besides loving Flavia, I also greatly admire Bradley's way with the English language--his sentences are clear and flowing, his descriptions out of the ordinary, and his similes/comparisons are never trite or overworn. Where else could you read: "Don't puff out your cheeks like that: It makes you look like a petulant pear." or "If poisons were ponies, I'd put my money on cyanide." or "I turned my attention to the steamer trunk, which was covered over with stickers like barnacles clinging to the hull of a ship. These colorful crustaceans, however,. . ." (I also greatly enjoy the alliteration).
Too, his work is a gold mine of cross-references to chemistry and chemical factoids, as well as music and literature. It's been a long time since I've read books that had so much interesting information that I can use to choose Pandora selections, include in my tours as a docent at our local museum, and just plain "literary treasure hunts" on Google.
These are books I just had to buy, so I can cover them with sticky tabs, highlighting, and marginal notes. Thanks, Alan Bradley!
Top international reviews
However, as things progress it becomes apparently that Bradley is falling into first novel territory of using rather frugal schemes to forward his plot. Suddenly at the half-way point things grind to a halt for a three-chapter monologue that fills in all the backstory and motivates an entirely unmotivated sortie purely because the book needs a key piece of evidence to turn up (never mind that its existence is pushing the bounds of likelihood to previously-uncharted extremes...!). You also can’t help but spot the villain at their first appearance, and it takes out precocious genius a rather long time to twig to a central mystery that feels distractingly unlikely even as it is being unfurled in front of you, which makes the tortuous nature of the explanation at the end (seriously, we’ve figured most of this out already) more than a little overlong, redundant and irritating.
There is some absolutely delightful language, both playful and touching, on display, and Bradley obviously has a lot of love for the world he has created. Fundamentally, there is a lot of sweetness at the bottom of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and I shall move on to the next book, The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag (love these titles). It is far from perfect, but Alan Bradley should be congratulated in carving out a distinct niche in the crowded killing fields of modern crime fiction, and deserves your efforts and patience for that alone; if he gets better from here, he’s due to become very, very, very good indeed.
The tone and voice of this book is beautiful. The narrator is a 11 year old girl who is the youngest sibling of 3 girls. She is intelligent and as a child, pushes boundaries and does her own thing as you would expect, but because of her intellect this gives her a unique view of the world which is a delight to read.
The secondary characters were not left out when this book was written and the whole era itself feels like a character of it's own. It comes alive and you know and feel where you are when reading. There is one instance when Flavia meets a secondary character and her intelligence decides whether they can become friends or not and this is what she thinks: "Anyone who knew the word 'slattern' was worth cultivating as a friend."
It is a wonderful book and one to be enjoyed and savoured. Enjoy meeting Flavia de Luce as this is the first in a series.
Would have had at least one extra star but for this
The story is told in first person narrative by Flavia herself and while I was initially concerned that I would find the character of a precocious chilld annoying her actions and thoughts are still often those of a child despite what she thinks! It is those elements of the story that really bring the character to life.
At the time of writing, Bradley had never been to Brittan and his vision of the country was informed by old copies country life magazines that his British grandparents had and this is evidenced by the very idyllic version of 1950s England the de Luce’s live in. While there is some realism in the specter of WWII and the financial hardship that hit many country estates in the post war years, we view the world from the eyes of a child who is only vaguely aware of such things and would much prefer to spend her time locked away in the chemistry lab set-up by one of her eccentric ancestors or riding around the countryside on her bicycle
If I had to be critical, the book does lack suspense for a whodunit, but makes up for it by with of charm and humour.
So if you are expecting historical accuracy and gritty crime, Bishop's Lacey is not the place for you to visit.
Other reviewers have questioned whether these books could possibly appeal to children, so I thought it might be interesting for me to assure people that yes, they certainly do! Not your average child reader, but certainly the small handful of readers who (thank goodness) enjoy something sophisticated, challenging and out-of-the-ordinary. I have given them to children who love Agatha Christie - and also those who love Lemony Snicket, I have to admit!
The odd Americanism ( 'baking soda' in England in 1950... NO! Baking powder, yes) was mildly irritating.
It concerns a young girl, a love for poisons and chemistry, and a curious case of a rare stamp which has lead to magic tricks, mystery, mayhem and murder around Buckshaw. Bradley’s writing is engaging, witty, sweet and often downright bizarre at times throughout this book. Flavia is trying to solve the mystery surrounding the stamps, clear her father’s name of being accused of murder, and of course- trying to play poisoning tricks on her eldest sister, by toying with her Lipstick.
I can’t really talk about this book any more without spoiling it but all you really need to know is that I found it enjoyable. Flavia was funny, somehow charming whilst pretentious and and while there were parts where the story dragged, the amusing characters made up for it. The story was well paced, although some parts were a little drawn out. The characters are well written and, I think memorable. Throughout the book you see Flavia’s relationships with the other members of staff like Dogger, who was a POW in the war and has many challenges in daily life. Like in Book 4, I also enjoyed seeing Ophelia and Daphne show little signs of affection towards Flavia, even though they do take the mickey out of her and often it seems like they couldn’t care less about her. In this book you do see Flavia be a little selfless, in trying to sacrifice herself to save her father and his reputation, which is lovely because she is a stubborn and selfish eleven year old girl. It is nice to see her try to be selfless occasionally.
Going off the two books of this series I have read, I highly recommend this to people who enjoy quirky murder mysteries and I will be continuing with the series.
For more of my reviews, please visit Thebookheap at wordpress.
Written from her perspective the novel has a spirited youthful tone much in the vein of classic crime fiction. The English landscape that acts as a home for these escapades is equally archetypal and will fill anybody who has taken a stroll in an old English village with smiles and joy. There is not a lot to dislike about this book and the strongest points occur about halfway as flashbacks to a past grip the reader into a Golden Age style mystery.
For anybody who is a fan of Sherlock Holmes or the quick-witted asides of one who seems to know better (and knows it) more than anyone else in the room then this is for you. There is much pleasure to derive from this first book of a series I will no doubt be following in time to come.
The author's English is a pleasure to read, all round an excellent book.
In reality the pace was slow, the book lacked suspense and the main character/narrator was extremely irritating.
I had to force myself to continue reading and I cannot say I felt any differently upon finishing.