Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Novel by Alan Bradley (Delacorte Press, April 28, 2009), 384 pages
Flavia de Luce is our 11-year-old protagonist. (She reminds me some of Nancy Drew, although I’m not entirely sure if that’s just because she’s a young amateur sleuth.) She’s certainly precocious. Flavia is a chemist, the youngest of three daughters in the de Luce family. It’s the summer of 1950, we meet our cast of characters at the family estate of Buckshaw, in rural England. She discovers a stranger dead in the cucumber patch and takes solving the death on her own shoulders. Her mother died when Flavia was young. Her father is somewhat distant because of his war experience. Her two older sisters keep themselves occupied, one with any reflective surface and the other with a near infinite stack of books.
At times, Flavia is musing over chemical properties of a particular poison or antidote like a professional (or at least like an adult — at points I had to remind myself that she is not an adult), and at others she’s clearly a typical clueless-about-life tween. She makes good use of the public library in nearby Bishop’s Lacey and gets everywhere she needs to go on her bike, which she’s named Gladys.
Throughout the book, conversations on stamp collecting, classical music, and literature persist.
I’m intrigued by the young protagonist in a book written for adults. I’m guessing the main reason this isn’t labeled as a YA book is that the protagonist is too young. While not quite laugh-out-loud funny, it is an amusing read.
It’s a great book. I look forward to the rest of the series (the next installment — Tied Up with Strings — is due in 2010). I placed it alongside my favorite reads of the year, and found that I can’t place it at the top of that list but also that I can’t articulate why not.
Sweetness won the Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger Award in 2007.
Alan Bradley lives in British Columbia, Canada; he took early retirement in 1994 to write.
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