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The sweetness at the bottom of the pie
Book
2009
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Reviews

Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* Canadian Alan Bradley's first full-length crime novel is delightful. Like fellow Canadian Louise Penny, his book is the recipient of the Debut Dagger Award from Canada's Crime Writers' Association. Sweetness introduces a charming and engaging sleuth who is only 11 years old. Flavia is one of three precocious and extremely literate daughters being raised by English widower Colonel de Luce in 1950. Flavia's passion is chemistry (with a special interest in poisons). She is able to pursue her passion in the fully equipped Victorian laboratory in Buckshaw, the English mansion where the de Luce family lives. The story begins with a dead snipe (with a rare stamp embedded on its beak) found on the back doorstep. This is followed by a dead human body in the garden and, later, by a poisonous custard pie. Revelations about the mysterious past of Colonel de Luce complicate matters. Others supporting players include the housekeeper, Mrs. Mullet, and the gardener, Dogger, who suffers from shell shock. When Colonel de Luce is arrested for murder, it's up to Flavia to solve the mystery. The 11-year-old claims she is not afraid because "this was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life." Only those who dislike precocious young heroines with extraordinary vocabulary and audacious courage can fail to like this amazingly entertaining book. Expect more from the talented Bradley. Copyright 2009 Booklist Reviews.

Library Journal Reviews

Flavia, an 11-year-old with a chemistry lab, finds a corpse in a cucumber patch and applies the detective skills she learned plotting against her older sisters. This debut mystery by a Canadian author won the 2007 Crime Writer Association's Debut Dagger Award. Copyright 2009 Reed Business Information.

Library Journal Reviews

An 11-year-old solving a dastardly murder in the English countryside in 1950 wouldn't seem to be everyone's cup of tea. But Flavia Sabina de Luce is no ordinary child: she's already an accomplished chemist, smart enough to escape being imprisoned by her older sisters and to exact revenge, forthright and fearless to the point of being foolhardy, and relentless in defending those she loves. When she spies on her father arguing heatedly with a strange man late at night and the next morning finds that man buried in the cucumber patch, she sets out, riding her bicycle named Gladys, to make sense of it all. And when her father—a philatelist and widower for a decade who still mourns his wife—is arrested, Flavia's efforts are intensified. She delves into the backstory, involving the death of her father's beloved teacher years earlier and the loss of a rare stamp, and puts together the pieces almost too late. The stiff-upper-lip de Luce family is somewhat stereotypically English, but precocious Flavia is unique. Winner of the Debut Dagger Award, this is a fresh, engaging first novel with appeal for cozy lovers and well beyond. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ 1/09.]—Michele Leber, Arlington, VA

[Page 89]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Publishers Weekly Reviews

Fans of Louise Fitzhugh's iconic Harriet the Spy will welcome 11-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce, the heroine of Canadian journalist Bradley's rollicking debut. In an early 1950s English village, Flavia is preoccupied with retaliating against her lofty older sisters when a rude, redheaded stranger arrives to confront her eccentric father, a philatelic devotee. Equally adept at quoting 18th-century works, listening at keyholes and picking locks, Flavia learns that her father, Colonel de Luce, may be involved in the suicide of his long-ago schoolmaster and the theft of a priceless stamp. The sudden expiration of the stranger in a cucumber bed, wacky village characters with ties to the schoolmaster, and a sharp inspector with doubts about the colonel and his enterprising young detective daughter mean complications for Flavia and enormous fun for the reader. Tantalizing hints about a gardener with a shady past and the mysterious death of Flavia's adventurous mother promise further intrigues ahead. (Apr.)

[Page 38]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

School Library Journal Reviews

Adult/High School—When a stranger shows up dying in her family's cucumber patch in the middle of the night, 11-year-old Flavia de Luce expands her interests from chemistry and poisons to sleuthing and local history. The youngest of a reclusive widower's three daughters, Flavia is accustomed to independence and takes delight in puzzles and "what if's." She is well suited to uncovering the meaning of the dead snipe left at the kitchen door, the story behind the bright orange Victorian postage stamps, and—eventually—the identity of the murderer and his relationship to the dying man. Bradley sets the protagonist on a merry course that includes contaminating her oldest sister's lipstick with poison ivy, climbing the bell tower of the local boys' school, and sifting through old newspapers in the village library's outbuilding. Flavia is brave and true and hilarious, and the murder mystery is clever and satisfying. Set in 1950, the novel reads like a product of that time, when stories might include insouciance but relative innocence, pranks without swear words, and children who were not so overscheduled or frightened that they couldn't make their way quite nicely in chatting up the police or the battle-shocked family retainer. Mystery fans, Anglophiles, and science buffs will delight in this book and may come away with a slightly altered view of what is possible for a headstrong girl to achieve.—Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia

[Page 140]. Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Author Biography

Alan Bradley has published many children’s stories as well as lifestyle and arts columns in Canadian newspapers. His adult stories have been broadcast on CBC radio and published in various literary journals. He won the first Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for Children’s Literature as well as the Debut Dagger Award from the Crime Writers’ Association for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. He lives in British Columbia. Bantam Dell will publish the next in Bradley’s delirious new series, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, in 2010. - (Random House, Inc.)

Annotations

Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is propelled into a mystery when a man is found murdered on the grounds of her family's decaying English mansion and Flavia's father becomes the main suspect. - (Baker & Taylor)

Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, begins her adventure when a dead bird is found on the doorstep of her family's mansion in the summer of 1950, thus propelling her into a mystery that involves an investigation into a man's murder where her father is the main suspect. Original. - (Baker & Taylor)

In his first novel, Alan Bradley introduces one of the most singular and engaging heroines in recent fiction: eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison.
It is the summer of 1950 - and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia's family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. - (Blackwell North Amer)

In his wickedly brilliant first novel, Debut Dagger Award winner Alan Bradley introduces one of the most singular and engaging heroines in recent fiction: eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. It is the summer of 1950—and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia’s family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “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.”

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 enthralling mystery, a piercing depiction of class and society, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a masterfully told tale of deceptions—and a rich literary delight. - (Random House, Inc.)

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