2015 Reading Challenge – Book #19 – The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Book #19 – A book by an author you’ve never read before – The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Genre: Murder Mystery/Crime
Published: 2009
Country: Canada
Book to Movie/TV Adaptation: TV Adaptation in-development produced by Sam Mendes

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - Alan Bradley

Take a glass beaker and fill halfway with water. Now using a pipette, take some of Miss Marple’s amateur sleuthing skills, a splash of Hercule Poirot’s gray cells, a few drops of Nancy Drew’s spunk and determination, a dash of Houdini and a whole lot of Friedrich Wöhler’s passion for organic chemistry and shake vigorously. Voila! You’ve got yourself a perfectly made solution in the form of an 11-year old girl called Flavia de Luce.

Flavia is no ordinary little girl living in 1950’s post-war Britain. With a natural penchant for chemistry and a special fondness for poisons, she is a dangerous person to mess with. Forever playing a never-ending game of revenge with her two older sisters Ophelia and Daphne whilst trying to avoid her father’s depressed silences and her housekeeper’s custard pie, Flavia’s happiest moments are spent poring over her chemistry books and tinkering around in her home laboratory. In fact, the only person she seems to be comfortable with is odd-job man Dogger who is a little off in the head as well as her faithful bicycle Gladys.

So when someone leaves a dead bird with a stamp attached to its beak outside the front door and the next day a stranger literally takes his last breath before her eyes in her garden, Flavia puts on her Curious George hat and tries to solve the case much to the chagrin of Inspector Hewitt of the local police.

The book started off very strongly and I got the impression that this was going to be a very gripping mystery because the protagonist’s unusual hobbies and talents gave me the chills. In fact, it had all the makings of a typical Agatha Christie complete with harmless village characters and cold-blooded crimes.

But my impressions, though not totally off the mark, failed to prove me right entirely. The plot which was simple yet quite ingenious and told from Flavia’s POV, was bogged down by too many details and descriptions of backgrounds and fictional history that slowed down the pace considerably and there was a sense of loss of its gripping essence about halfway through. What I did enjoy, was the smatterings of real historical characters that meshed very well together with fictional characters. It was interesting to learn tidbits about various scientists, musicians and royalty who actually existed. I enjoyed the style of writing overall but didn’t care for the oodles of very odd similes which received top marks for creativity but unfortunately, none for their excessiveness.

I uncorked the partially filled bottle and held it to my nose. It smelled as if someone had dropped vinegar on the back of a sticking plaster: an acrid protein smell, like an alcoholic’s hair burning in the next room.

I liked Flavia, I really did. Possessing a strong feminist streak, she had a lot of gumption and quick thinking brains which I admired earnestly but I had a little bit of hard time adjusting to her level of maturity as the book progressed. Very wise and sagacious, she seemed to be 11 going on 21 (even more than Hermoine Granger at the same age!) Which is a good thing I suppose, but from the way she thought and spoke, I could only imagine a much older girl investigating the case than Flavia’s petite self. If this series had come out a decade earlier, then Dakota Fanning or Emma Watson would have been the perfect choice to play Flavia on screen.

So that was it. As at a birth, so at a death. Without so much as a kiss-me-quick-and-mind-the-marmalade, the only female in sight is enlisted to trot off and see that the water is boiled. Rustle something up, indeed! What did he take me for, some kind of cowboy?

Despite Alan Bradley’s Canadian roots, he has done a spectacular job writing a British mystery set in the fictional village of Bishop’s Lacey. I don’t know yet if I will read the rest of the Flavia de Luce series of mysteries but this was a very interesting experience indeed. I am excited to see how this series will be translated on the small screen.

I wish I could say my heart was stricken, but it wasn’t. I wish I could say my instinct was to run away, but that would not be true. Instead, I watched in awe, savoring every detail: the fluttering fingers, the almost imperceptible bronze metallic cloudiness that appeared on the skin, as if, before my very eyes, it were being breathed upon by death.

And then the utter stillness.

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.

Book Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

You can email me at thistlesandwhistles@hotmail.com
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5 thoughts on “2015 Reading Challenge – Book #19 – The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

  1. Safar Fiertze says:

    What a great review! I’ve not read the book, but I gained such a vivid image of the main character and intriguing peak into her world that I’d think about putting it on the reading list for the future. However, I did also get enough information to ascertain that it’s not the kind of book I’d generally enjoy … so very useful to make a decision about reading it. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thistles and Whistles says:

      Thank you so much Safar! I’m glad that you found the review informative ! I typically love cozy village mysteries (particularly Agatha Christie) and this has all the perfect ingredients but it was only the excessive detailing in some aspects that perhaps spoiled the charm (for me, at least!) otherwise it would have been an excellent read. Nevertheless, I would really suggest you do have a go at it when you can. For Flavia. 🙂

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