The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie – Alan Bradley
It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.
For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “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.”
I’ve read this one before, but it’s been a while and, after getting the seventh (and most recent) novel in the series, I decided to reread them (I think I’ve only read the first three before, so it will be a NEW EXPERIENCE by the time I get to the fourth one).
I love Flavia. She’s amazing. She’s precocious and clever and sassy, and those all combine into a wonderful heroine. I was very shocked when I learned that her creator, Alan Bradley, was in his 70’s when he wrote the first book.
Sidenote: I can also confirm that Alan Bradley is an absolute delight and probably the sweetest man in the world.
One of my favourite parts of the Flavia de Luce books are the relationships. Sure, the mysteries are well-thought out and she doesn’t make any of those wacky conclusions that make you think the author was just pulling words out of their nether regions in order to get to the end on time. But the best part is reading her interactions with other people, especially her sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, and Dogger, their jack-of-all-trades gardener/chauffeur/Flavia’s occasional partner-in-crime.
This book opens with Flavia’s sisters (Feely and Daffy) shoving her into a closet with her hands tied behind her back. From there, you learn that Feely’s vain and Daffy’s a bookworm, and basically, they make for a well-rounded trio of sisters.
As the youngest of three sisters (with a brother thrown in for good measure), I guess I can relate to Flavia on a certain level; while my sisters never locked me in a closet (that I can remember), they often put my favourite doll on top of a door aka out of my reach (jokes on them – I’m now the tallest of the three of us so that doesn’t work on me anymore!).
One advantage Flavia has over me though, is her obsession with chemistry. I don’t get chemistry. I was never very good at it, even though I liked the idea of mixing chemicals together. Maybe if we’d done more experiments in class and less memorizing symbols, I’d have liked it more?
Either way, Flavia’s love for science is one of the reasons she makes such an intriguing heroine. She’s a plethora of chemical knowledge so – whether it’s how to inject her sister’s lips with something causing them to swell up or working out how a man died in the cucumber garden without any previous health issues – she’s the one you want on your side. I have learned more about chemical reactions reading this book than I did all throughout high school.
There’s also just something hilarious about an eleven year old being obsessed with poisons in the 1950’s.