“Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie, who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?” William King, The Art of Cookery (1708)
Yet again I am a latecomer to the party. I am just now tasting the delights of the mystery series by Canadian author Alan Bradley starring Flavia de Luce – an 11-year prodigy who solves crimes ahead of highly intelligent Inspector Hewitt.
But I am getting ahead of myself. I want to indulge in a personal comment before telling you about this series: I have entered my fifth decade and want to say that I now firmly believe the old adage: “It’s never too late”. So arriving late to the party is just fine, as long as I enjoy it when I get there! (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, the first in the Flavia de Luce mystery series, was first published in 2009, so I am just four years late).
Immediately acclaimed, book one won a long string of awards, including the Debut Dagger Award of the British Crimewriter’s Association and the Agatha Award for Best First Novel.
“Character is king” and Alan Bradley has created royalty in Flavia de Luce, who is a wonderful, charming, uncannily intelligent, motherless child. Her influence has just begun and I must thank Uncle Mike Stanley for telling me about her, and Phyllis at my local library for insisting that I listen to the audio version of the book narrated splendidly by Jayne Entwistle.
An excerpt from the series website sets the scene: “Alan Bradley plants the story deep into the setting of 1950s England, with a portrait of an eccentric home life that is all too wickedly familiar. The story’s twists are supported by the time and place as well as the unusual interests of the characters which range from stamp-collecting to making poisons all of which are highly researched and ingeniously incorporated.” http://www.flaviadeluce.com/the-sweetness-at-the-bottom-of-the-pie/
I would rather not divulge the book’s plot, but, instead, rave about its characterization, turns of phrase, and wonderful conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed the unlikely pairing of a precocious eleven-year-old and a middle-aged British police inspector. Author Alan Bradley has a masterful grasp of the English language and uses it to both amuse and draw in the reader to his time and place:
“Except for a handkerchief-sized scrap of grass at one side, Miss Mountjoy’s willow filled the fenced-in yard. Even on the doorstep I could feel the dampness of the place: the tree’s languid branches formed a green bell jar through which little light seemed to penetrate, giving me the odd sensation of being under water.” (p. 136)
Also, the ending is incredibly satisfying – resolving the mystery and stirring the heart.
My teen daughters and I listened to the book on our car rides this fall and found that Flavia appealed to all of us, although some of the gruesome aspects of the murder and the creepy murderer made it a definite PG-13/TV 14 rating in our opinion. (That, and Flavia’s propensity to exclaim: “Damnation!” “Damn it to hell” , etc. throughout the story) This book series is found in the adult mystery section of my library.
I declare our plan to catch up with the Flavia fan club by reading the other five novels in the series: The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, A Red Herring Without Mustard, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Speaking From Among the Bones, The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches.
If you are already a fan of the series, I would love to hear from you, just don’t spoil anything I have yet to experience! Flavia Fan club website: http://flaviafanclub.ning.com
Also, I discovered that great discussion questions are available on
My friend Wendy has this to say about this series: “I knew you would love it! This is one of the only series that we pre-order instead of waiting for the library to have. That is the advantage of being late to the party, you don’t have to wait for the next book! Isn’t Flavia fun?! I love all the church, hymn and history references, I love the way she talks to and treats her bike, Gladys, like a horse. “I put my feet up on the handlebars and gave Gladys her head. As we shot down the hill…” and “Leaving Gladys to graze in a bicycle stand…” (I had a green schwinn before I got my own horse, I remember…). And through all her thrilling fantastic adventures, there is something about her motherless childhood that rings so true.”