The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

9 June, 2010

Can I just say, I loved, loved, LOVED this book. I’d heard many good things about The Sweetness of the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley and it’s sequel The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, with lots of great reviews dotted here and there, and was over the moon when I pounced upon it at my library. Of course, it had been reserved but I kept it back for a few days to read it (sorry!) And boy am I glad I did. Flavia de Luce is a true heroine, all 11 years of her: she’s plucky, intelligent, independant and gives as good as she gets (especially to her two elder sisters Ophelia and Daphne with whom she is perpetually at war). She is the proud master of her very own chemistry lab and an expert in poisons. I’m more an astrophysics person myself but even I was drooling over the perfect lab stocked by Flavia’s science-mad Uncle Tarquin where Einstein and Shaw had once taken tea (separately). What more could you want in a main character?

Bradley has created a delightful universe full of intelligence, mystery and such warmth that I just wanted to bundle myself into Flavia’s world and be a part of it. Some might say all the familiar tropes from the golden age mysteries are there, the crumbling pile, errant but brilliant children, a distant or absent parent, faithful servants, suspicious policemen and dastardly villains, but then you can say they are present in all mysteries, just camouflaged. I was happy to meet all of them, especially the valet/driver/gardener Dogger, who is unable to escape his horrific memories of WWII, with whom Flavia has a tender friendship. It was just really nice to read a book where I liked everyone (regardless of whether they liked each other.)

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie begins with Flavia bickering with her sisters when a dead bird is delivered to their door with it’s beak through a stamp. Flavia’s father is a keen member of the philatelic society and was once embroiled in a school scandal resulting in the death of a master. A mysterious midnight visitor and a corpse in the morning leads to all sorts of mayhem as Mr. de Luce is promptly arrested for murder. To save her father, Flavia hunts for clues and delves into the past uncovering a story of greed, poisonous friendships and the most elusive and prized stamp of all, the Penny Black. And throughout this, we meet all sorts of characters who populate the village of Bishop’s Lacey including Flavia’s trusted bicycle Gladys.

I learned quite a bit of chemistry reading this novel and Flavia’s bookshelf reminded me of some of the books I encountered as a student. Amongst other juicy bits of trivia, I also learnt that the essential plant oil urushiol was used to make lacquer and it clicked that in Japan, we call lacquerware ‘urushi’.

Flavia also comes out with some great one-liners:

‘Seed biscuits and milk! I hated Mrs. Mullet’s seed biscuits the way St. Paul hated sin.’

Hysterical.

I can’t wait to read the sequel, The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag (and there’s promise of six books in the series!), and am even contemplating buying The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie just so I can keep it and read it again and again. I think I love this book too much. Just in case you think it’s all sugar and spice (because I’m gushing too much), Bradley’s novel harks back to the golden age of mystery but with a blanket of darkness and menace. Just how I like it.

I read this as part of the Thriller and Suspense 2010 Challenge .

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19 Responses to “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley”

  1. amymckie Says:

    Hooray! I love finding more lovers of Flavia. I don’t think you will be disappointed with book 2 🙂

  2. Kals Says:

    This amazing review has made me even more excited about this book than before. I loved the title and knew I had to read it.

    Thanks for the great review 🙂


  3. This ones new to me, but it looks interesting – thanks for the review!

  4. Melissa Says:

    I just finished this one at well. Flavia is fantastic! She cracked me up. I can’t wait to read the next one.

    I reviewed it here…
    http://avidreader25.blogspot.com/2010/06/book-reviews_05.html

  5. chasing bawa Says:

    amymckie: Can’t wait to read it!

    Kals: I really didn’t expect to fall in love with the book. It’s wonderful (gushing again here).

    Almost Unschoolers: I think it’s up for the Macavity Award for Best First Mystery (Mystery Readers International), and rightly so!

    Melissa: She’s hysterical. And her sisters too. Nice review, by the way.

  6. Kristen M. Says:

    So glad that you loved this! Actually, I’m not sure I’ve seen any negative reviews of it. There were maybe a couple of lukewarm ones but that’s it.

  7. Aarti Says:

    This book seems to be universally loved! I haven’t read it yet, but I hope to do so at some point. If I can find it 🙂 Thanks for such a great review!

  8. Bina Says:

    One more in the Flavia club! 🙂 I completely loved this book as well. And the second one is just as amazing. Only now we have to wait one whole year for the next one!

  9. winstonsdad Says:

    i really will have to read this ,all heard of it is good reviews and know books on the nightstand, have rave about it ,all the best stu

  10. Mystica Says:

    I finished this one last week as well and loved it. The writing as you say was so very good and Flavia – so grown up and so child like at the same time. Really good.

  11. Dominique Says:

    Hi! 🙂 I loved this book as well. I hope you enjoy The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag next, my one complaint about it was that it didn’t include enough Flavia/Feely and Daph bickering, those scenes were my favourite parts of the first book.

  12. Violet Says:

    I loved this and am looking forward to the new one! I did read a review on a blog by someone who didn’t like it, but can’t remember who it was. How can anyone not love Flavia? She is brilliant!

  13. Nymeth Says:

    I need to read this! It’s actually on its way to me at the moment, so I’ll get to soon 😀 I’m pretty sure I’ll be a fan too.

  14. chasing bawa Says:

    Kristin M: I don’t think I have either. It seems to be a slow burning one.

    Aarti: It’s up for some awards, so I’m sure you’ll find it somewhere near you! I’d be interested to see what you think.

    Bina: I want to read the second one straight away, but I think I’ll hold out a little longer.

    winstsonsdad: Oh, I hope you like it. I tried not to think too much about it before reading it, and it completely knocked me sideways.

    Mystica: It’s amazing how readers with such differing tastes in books like it. I’m so glad you liked it!

    Dominique: Oh, I loved the bickering between the sisters. So viscious yet so charming.

    Violet: It would be interesting to see what bits people didn’t like. I think I read one review where they felt the mystery was slightly lacking, but it didn’t bother me at all. I’ve been reading mysteries for so long that now most of my focus is on the characters who I feel make or break the book.

    Nymeth: I can’t wait to read your review. I hope you like it too.

  15. Iris Says:

    I can’t believe I still have to read this book! It’s waiting for me on my shelves so I should be able to remedy the situation soon. I’m glad to find that yet another person loved it though, I’m starting to feel ever more hopeful that I’ll love it as well.

  16. novelinsights Says:

    I’ve read so many good reviews of this book. Sounds like a brilliant read!


  17. I just got this book through the post via readitswapit and I keep hearing great things about it! Can’t wait to read it now.


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