Wednesday, February 04, 2009
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie : a Flavia de Luce mystery / Alan Bradley
Toronto: Doubleday, c2009.
Here's a book I received from Random House and read cover to cover within two days of its arrival. It's gorgeous! Look at that cover! It is one of my favourite colours, known in the quilting world as the fabric colour "Poison Green". And my goodness, was that a huge tip-off to the storyline.
This astonishingly fun read stars Flavia de Luce, nearly 11 and extremely precocious. So much so that for the first couple of chapters I wasn't quite sure Bradley would pull off this voice; a child so arch and so widely informed, as well as being a crack chemist with her own Victorian era chemistry lab, could this work? Well, yes, yes it does. Once you accept the fact that Flavia is not just an 11 yr old English girl, she is Flavia, everything goes smoothly. It is an original and entertaining voice, hugely amusing and clever. The eccentric de Luce family lives in the English countryside in the 1950's; Flavia and her two older sisters, Daphne and Ophelia, live with their absent minded father Colonel de Luce and ex-military man turned handyman, Dogger. Their mother Harriet died years ago and one thing Flavia holds against her older sister Ophelia is that Feely has memories of Harriet, while Flavia does not.
As the story begins, a regular summer of chemistry experiments and bicycle rides lies ahead for Flavia. However, things take a turn when she first overhears her father arguing with someone in his study in the dead of night, and hours later discovers a body in the cucumber patch. It is actually not quite a body when she finds it; it is a man who breathes out his last word into her concerned face (and coincidentally passes on his terrible cold while he does so; as Flavia comments near the end of the book, "Thanks buckets, Horace"). Much can be explained by Flavia's reaction upon finding the dying man:
I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.
Flavia realizes that he could have been murdered by Dogger or even by her father, so decides to investigate before the police bungle up all the clues. She even uses the rarely open town library in her search - how could I not love that? The chase is on, and Flavia's discoveries lead to mayhem and, eventually, the truth being revealed.
I loved the setting; the author is a Canadian who has never lived in England but he has English antecedents and as he commented, has read a lot of English novels. The setting, Buckshaw House, is perfect and as rambly and tumbledown as anyone could wish. Flavia is unique and so funny, and I loved her sisters and all their interactions as well (especially Flavia's revenge on Ophelia at the beginning of the book). Middle sister Daphne was particularly lovable; she wants to be a writer and spends the entire story with her nose stuck in one book or another. This one comes highly recommended, especially if you like English mysteries or are looking for something unconventional to shake you out of a reading slump -- this could be it. Both intelligent and vastly entertaining, I am very glad to hear it is the first of a projected series. I enjoyed this one immensely! It's available in Canada and the UK right around now, but apparently those of you in the US will have to wait until April. Make a note; it is a wonderful read with a strikingly individual, resourceful and police-pestering narrator.
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