Alan Bradley – The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Holidays make me grab random books off my shelf (or Kobo library) at times. I don’t know why but judging by the cover, I expected this to be a light and quirky read and exactly what I wanted for the beach. I got just that. A light, fun little book with an endearing child heroine, some interesting trivia about philatelic history and, oh yes, a murder to be solved.

by Alan Bradley

Published: Delacorte Press, 2009
ISBN: 0440338468
Pages: 385
Copy: ebook
Series: Flavia de Luce #1

My rating: 7/10
Goodreads rating: 3,77/5

First sentence: It was as black in the closet as old blood.

To Flavia the investigation is the stuff of science: full of possibilities, contradictions, and connections. Soon her father, a man raising his three daughters alone, is seized, accused of murder. And in a police cell, during a violent thunderstorm, Colonel de Luce tells his daughter an astounding story — of a schoolboy friendship turned ugly, of a priceless object that vanished in a bizarre and brazen act of thievery, of a Latin teacher who flung himself to his death from the school’s tower thirty years before. Now Flavia is armed with more than enough knowledge to tie two distant deaths together, to examine new suspects, and begin a search that will lead her all the way to the King of England himself. Of this much the girl is sure: her father is innocent of murder—but protecting her and her sisters from something even worse…

An 11-year-old heroine with a lust for chemistry solving a murder case? This sounded like just the right kind of holiday read and as I dove into the story, I got everything the blurb and reviews had promised. Flavia de Luce is immediately likable, her hunger for knowledge, especially when it comes to chemistry, is charmingly refreshing and the de Luce family would merit an entire series about themselves, even without the murder mysteries. Charming, a little strange, and utterly likeable, this house full of crazy people – including the maid and the gardener – made me want more. Two chapters into the story I knew I was going to continue the series, no matter what.

I’m not a crime reader so guessing plotlines is harder for me in this particular genre. I liked not knowing how things were connected. Following Flavia on her quest for the truth was utterly enjoyable and her reasoning skills and use of logic made her all the more likeable. Sure, she’s a bit too clever and definitely not careful enough about her snooping into things that are none of her business but who wouldn’t love a pig-tailed mystery solver? I especially loved the relationship to her sisters and father, this distant and untransparent man, as well as Dogger who is a mystery of his own.

I thought this story was a good mix of mystery, history, and sweetness. At some points, though, the pacing seemed off and there are a great deal too many coincidences. I suppose if I read more crime fiction, I wouldn’t have liked it as much as I did. And for me, the murder mystery really wasn’t the most interesting part. It was Flavia’s charm and her surprising cleverness that kept me reading and wanting more. Just like the police detective, I was astounded at how many steps Flavia was ahead of the police. Towards the end, there are a few thrilling moments but altogether, this was a light and fun read, perfect for a summer day.

THE GOOD: An adorable heroine and narrator who uses cleverness and logic to solve a murder mystery. Charming writing, funny dialogue, and a bit of intersting chemistry and philatelic trivia.
THE BAD: Not always thrilling, I didn’t feel the characters were ever truly in danger. Murder mysteries are still not my favorite thing in literature.
THE VERDICT: Highly recommended for a light read. You will laugh, you will be charmed, and you will want to conspire with Flavia just how to pay her silly sisters back for being annoying.

RATING: 7/10  A very good, lighthearted read.

The Flavia de Luce Series:

  1. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
  2. The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag
  3. A Red Herring Without Mustard
  4. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
  5. Speaking From Among the Bones
  6. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches

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