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Alan Bradley – The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

June 2, 2009

65. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (2009)
The Buckshaw Chronicles, Book 1

Length: 374 pages

Genre: Mystery; Historical Fiction

Started: 23 May 2009
Finished: 27 May 2009

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was published by Delacorte Press on 28 April 2009; you can get yourself a copy from Amazon.

Where did it come from? From the publishers, via LibraryThing’s Member Giveaway
Why do I have it? The publisher’s blurb sounded interesting… an 11-year-old detective/chemist/poisoner? What’s not to love?
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 08 May 2009.
Verdict? Keeper.

Flavia likes her
poisons, but she didn’t kill
the stranger. Who did?

Summary: Flavia de Luce is not your typical 11-year-old in 1950s Britain… the youngest daughter of a dead mother and a distant father, she is obsessed with chemistry, with a particular penchant for poisons. She spends most of her time tormenting (and being tormented by) her older sisters. When a dead snipe with a postage stamp impaled on its beak is found on the doorstep of their large but ill-kept country house, Flavia gets the first hints that there are secrets in her family deeper than she realized. And when, later that night, she finds a dead body in the cucumber patch, it’s positively the most exciting thing that has ever happened. For Flavia is determined to solve the mystery before the police do… even if she has to break a law or two to get there.

Review: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Flavia’s an excellent narrator, smart and capable and feisty and basically an all-around smart-ass. My favorite parts of the book were actually not the parts pertaining directly to the mystery, but rather the “padding” of Flavia experimenting on her sisters, sassing off to the detective, singing at the top of her lungs as she rode her trusty bike Gladys around town, etc. The “kid detectives are smarter than the adult” genre has certainly been done before, but Flavia’s an original, and she makes this novel stand out.

As for the mystery, it’s not a genre of which I read very much, but I thought it was well-done. I didn’t find it particularly predictable, but the pieces that had been meticulously doled out throughout the story all tied together satisfactorily, with no gaping holes and only minor stretches of credulity. The plot does take a while to pick up steam, but I was enjoying Flavia’s narration so much that I barely noticed.

There’s been some discussion as to whether this book is (or would have been better if it had been) geared towards a young-adult audience. A pre-teen narrator tends to argue in favor of YA, but other than that, the language and style are geared more towards adults. However, I don’t think there’s anything in it either thematically or stylistically that a younger reader (maybe 13-14 and up?) couldn’t handle. Maybe it’s best for those who already inhabit the border zone – adults who like crossover YA literature anyways, and young adults who are comfortable reading above their grade level.

All in all, while it wasn’t exactly a barn-burner, it was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and since it’s the first book in a new series, I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for the sequels. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: Mystery fans who are interested in a unique amateur sleuth should definitely check this one out, but non-mystery fans should give it a chance as well… I bet Flavia will win you over.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Links: Alan Bradley’s webpage

Other Reviews: Ms. Bookish, A Bookworm’s World, Thoughts of Joy, Book-a-rama, Book Nook Club, Bookopolis, Arch Thinking, We Be Reading
Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: It was as black in the closet as old blood.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 208: ““Bob Stanley, who had come with Bony, was openly smoking a gasper and nobody seemed to mind.”” – British slang: A cigarette.
  • p. 272: “Rook’s End was tucked into the folds of a cozy bed formed by Squires Hill and the Jack O’Lantern, the latter a curious outcropping of the landscape which, from a distance, appeared to be an Iron Age tumulus but, upon approach, proved to be substantially larger and shaped like a skull.” – an artificial mound, esp. over a grave; barrow.
14 Comments leave one →
  1. June 2, 2009 7:52 am

    Thanks for the link. I was one of those who really loved it – mind you I wanted to be Harriet the Spy for one whole summer. Glad to see you marked it a keeper!

  2. June 2, 2009 2:35 pm

    I really want to read this book. I just learned this is part of a series.

  3. June 2, 2009 5:31 pm

    I didn’t realize that this was a part of a series. I am looking forward to reading this so I’m glad you think it was god. I went out and bought it and of course have not found the time to read it yet.

  4. June 2, 2009 5:35 pm

    I’m glad to see that you enjoyed this one. I was curious what it was about. Every time I see the title online it makes me hungry.

  5. June 3, 2009 12:11 am

    I felt the same as you did, that the most wonderful parts of the book were the characters and all the stuff that Flavia gets up to. The clashes with her sisters are so wonderful! The mystery was like a nice extra dash of enjoyment.

  6. June 3, 2009 8:54 am

    luanne – I don’t think I ever wanted to be Harriet the Spy, but I would have been (still am) jealous of Flavia’s chemistry lab. :)

    bermudaonion – I only learned about the series as I was reading the author profile in the back of the book – it’s not mentioned on the cover at all.

    Nicole – That’s always the way, isn’t it? I hope you enjoy it when you do get around to it!

    Alyce – It’s a very intriguing title, although it doesn’t tell you a whole lot about the book. There *is* a pie involved, I guess, but the title’s from the quote used as the epigraph: “Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie, who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?” (Or something like that; I don’t actually have my copy on hand.)

    Belle – I love, love, loved the fact that she experiments on her sisters… and that they get back at her in their own ways. :)

  7. June 3, 2009 11:04 am

    This one sounds fun! I love the line in your “Why do I have it” category:

    an 11-year-old detective/chemist/poisoner? What’s not to love?

    Sounds right up my alley :)

  8. June 4, 2009 3:04 pm

    KT – I bet you’d enjoy it… I hope you get the chance to pick it up!


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  6. Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley - Here There Be Books

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