I’ve had Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie floating around my house for years; I got the ARC free at Borders when the book was first coming out. When I mentioned it to my friend Britt, she noted that it was on her list and she’d actually started it once before realizing that she didn’t have the time for it then. She said it was darkly amusing and she was expecting it to be thoroughly enjoyable when she finally got another chance at it.
She was right.
I don’t read much mystery anymore, to be honest. I’ve read a good deal of Agatha Christie, the complete Sherlock Holmes, all of the ‘No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’ books, and a few random Mary Higgins Clarks and John Grishams, but that’s about it. (Except for Dorothy Gilman, come to think of it.) It isn’t that I don’t enjoy the genre, because I actually do; it’s just that I choose other genres more. That said, I’m glad I picked up this one. Being introduced to Flavia de Luce was well worth the month it took me to read it.
(By the way, that month was not at all a reflection of the quality of the book. After my family’s flu, my New England trip, the time change, and my baby’s sleep issues, well–I can’t stay awake to read more than a few pages a night. Of ANYTHING.)
Flavia is an 11-year-old after E. L. Konigsburg’s heart–she talks like an adult, thinks like an adult, and (in general) acts like an adult, all while living a child’s life and retaining something of a child’s outlook on the world. (It’s a style of character I find to be not necessarily impossible, but wildly improbable, and yet so thoroughly enjoyable that it completely works for me.) She lives at an English country estate (Buckshaw) in 1950, together with two older sisters, a distant philatelist father, and a loyal retainer called Dogger whose odd spells stem from his time as a POW in World War II. (The whole setting is very Agatha Christie.) A passionate chemist, Flavia has her own fully equipped laboratory (note: this book practically begs you to emphasize the second syllable, not the first). When she finds a dying man in Buckshaw’s cucumber patch, she is fascinated by the entire experience; her fascination (and her father’s eventual arrest for the murder) impel her to investigate the murder herself, using both her chemical and her reasoning skills. I shan’t give any more details than that, but trust me on this one–you won’t regret spending some time in Flavia’s world.
It’s a darkly delightful place to be.