Book Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

The ability to turn an eleven-year old girl into a chemistry genius has me appreciating the value of child protagonists in mystery novels.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley, follows a precocious chemist prodigy named Flavia De Luce, as she attempts to solve a murder in the post-war English countryside.

Brought to me by way of book club, this book’s title is characteristically youthful and drew me in at once. Its child perspective is original, and becomes a playful exaggeration of youth curiosity.

Flavia is a one-of-a-kind super sleuth with a love for poison, and all chemists will grasp the well-placed and darkly humorous references to cyanide, bunsen burners and distilling venom for lipstick.

Her father is Colonel Laurence “Jacko” De Luce, a reclusive widower with a passion for stamp-collecting and a hidden past.

The two finely-honed characters of Ophelia and Daphne De Luce (Feely and Daffy respectively) are Flavia’s sisters, one a vain pianist and the other a sensitive bookworm. They are in a constant struggle with their little sister, Flavia.

Flavia sees them as dim-witted and plain, and is constantly plotting her revenge.

Together with interesting side characters such as a war-veteran gardener or the omniscient detectives of the fictional town, Bishop’s Lacey, Bradley whittles a dynamic and intriguing mystery that is relentlessly entertaining.

He first took Flavia De Luce’s story to Britain’s Debut Dagger Award, and received the honour on the basis of his first chapter and synopsis. When it was released to the public, it generated phenomenal reviews from all mystery lovers.

Bradley has written three other Flavia books, all with their own unique and imaginative names that echo the youth and precociousness of the stories.

Bradley’s ability to create a captivating murder scene, and yet take the perspective of a young girl is an outlook that has yet gone unsuccessfully written.

Bradley explains his motives, saying “when you’re that age, you sometimes have a great burning enthusiasm that is very deep and very narrow, and that is something that has always intrigued me – that world of the 11-year-old that is so quickly lost.”

This varied perspective gives humour and idealism to the English murder mystery, losing the Conan Doyle feel and instead pursuing an Anne of Green Gables innocence mixed with eccentric characters and memorable writing.

As its protagonist is a young girl, this book is suited for all ages. Mild language, themes and references to death and murder are used, so parents may use discretion if necessary.

It is an enjoyable read, and the perfect Spring Break book. Bradley has penned a well-executed recovery of youth and adventure that goes unrivalled in its genre.

Elizibeth Ashton

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