25 July 2014

Books: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie By Alan Bradley (2009)

In the spring of 2006, author Alan Bradley had been working on a book set in the 1950s when the plot developed to include a detective character arriving at a country house to find a little girl in the driveway, sitting "on a camp stool doing something with a notebook and a pencil.” Bradley explains "she walked onto the page of another book I was writing, and simply hijacked the story. I can't take any credit for Flavia at all, she just materialized."

Flavia Sabina de Luce is a precious 11 year-old girl living in a huge house called Buckshaw in the English village of Bishop Lacey. It’s 1950 and beyond getting tortured by her two older sisters, and then plotting revenge against them, nothing much actually happens. Their mother, Harriet, vanished in Tibet 10 years earlier and is presumed dead (Flavia was a baby and has no memories or her) and their father, Colonel Haviland "Jacko" de Luce, still has not overcome the loss and spends most of his time with his stamps, as he is a philatelist. Trying to stave off boredom, Flavia has turned herself into a brilliant, amateur chemist, with a specialty in poisons and has a fully equipped, personal laboratory on the top floor of her home. It is here that she strategies against her sisters, Ophelia and Daphne. 

But then, mysterious events begin to occur when Mrs. Mullet, Buckshaw's housekeeper and cook, discovers a dead jack snipe on the porch with a Penny Black stamp pierced through its beak. Then, Flavia and Dogger (the family gardener who saved the Colonel’s life during the war, but who also suffers from postromantic distress disorder) overhears a heated argument between Colonel de Luce and a red-headed stranger who shortly turns up dead in the family cucumber patch. When Colonel de Luce is arrested for the crime, Flavia takes to her bicycle, Gladys, and begins an investigation in the village of Bishop's Lacey.

I can see what Bradley means about Flavia, as she is certainly one of the most original and brilliant heroines to come along in a long time. She is adorable, unique, witty, bold and irascible. Her relationship with her two sisters is believable –anyone with siblings will wish they were as smart as Flavia. The book sags a bit in the middle, and the killer is easily spotted, but Bradley is still able to keep your attention.  There is five books in the series, so now I have something else to read for the rest of 2014.

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