My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Nancy Drew- the quintessential girl sleuth? Not anymore. That place has now been claimed Flavia de Luce(oh, well since 2009) “an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison along with her loyal companion, Gladys- a proficient vehicle that is easy to fix and can take you one murder-site to another to an old-age home to the prisons in the next town over, requiring only sheer strapping strength and the tireless gutso and fervor of a child(and it requires no fuel!).” Yeah, right- more like a passion for poisoning! She’s not your typical 11-year old who lives in a decaying old mansion, constantly harassed by her older sisters and ignored by her philatelic-fanatic father and spends her days adulterating her sister’s lipstick with poison ivy(wish we had that here!). On stumbling upon a dead body in her cucumber patch, her first thoughts are “Instead, I watched in awe, savoring every detail: the fluttering fingers, the almost imperceptible bronze metallic cloudiness that appeared on the skin.” and “This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”
At its core, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is not really a murder mystery, but the adventures of a book genius who knows a lot about a lot of things as she sets on unearthing the details of the death and proving the innocence if her father. It’s about this little Marie-Anne-Paulze-Lavoisier-in-making. She is funny and quirky at times; she is downright irritating at others when she starts to spout these interesting, but out of my league, Chemistry facts. She sometimes has her own insecurities but in her own words:
‘I was me. I was Flavia. And I loved myself, even if no one else did.
“All hail Flavia! Flavia forever!” I shouted.’
She presents a new, refreshing distinct “voice” that jogs your memory of your pre-teen days of immaturity and occasional obnoxiousness.
The setting of the novel is in the British Countryside in the 1950’s, a lovely and intriguing location. The atmosphere of the novel coupled with Flavia’s antics create an enjoyable and charming scenery. The mystery was pretty easy to solve- but that’s just a single component of the book, isn’t it?
One thing that got to me was the constant, long descriptions of places and while it might be necessary to create the perfect setting, I didn’t much care for it. Also, while I enjoyed being constantly by the dexterity and ingenuity and brainpower of Flavia’s, it felt a bit over the top sometimes. I mean, is she like a budding-Sherlock Holmes or what?
However, Alan Bradley instills Flavia’s juvenile frolics and larking about at just the right moment to craft a perfect blend of book smarts and Snape-like shrewdness and a lot of immature clowning around, just like she created a perfect blend of poison ivy and lipstick for her oldest sister.
This book is a lovely snuggled-in-bed read for fans of cozy, English books who enjoy a bit of childish pettiness and brain-use as the dressing for their mystery/thriller-flavored salsa.