Reviews for Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie


Booklist Reviews 2009 May #1
*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.

----------------------
BookPage Reviews 2009 May
Pint-sized sleuth has a taste for poison

This reviewer was half-hoping that Flavia De Luce, the brilliant toxicologist of Alan Bradley's delicious new mystery, would be a cheerful murderess on the other end of the age spectrum from the old ladies in Arsenic and Old Lace. But no, save getting mild revenge on a tormentor, 11-year-old Flavia uses her knowledge of poisons for good. For example, to find out why that red-headed chap dropped dead in her father's cucumber patch, right beneath her bedroom window.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is set in post-World War II Britain, a time of a certain dinginess, in a great country estate where the sad and widowed Mr. De Luce lives with his three daughters and his stamp collection. As Flavia tries to determine what's causing the strange events around her home, Bradley delights the reader with lots of twists, turns and red herringsand heaps of English atmosphere. There are unkind older sisters and dotty spinsterish librarians and a devoted, war-wounded factotum. The eventual villain is delightfully creepy and sadistic enough for you to want him thrown in the slammer for a long timein a movie version, he'd be played by David Thewlis. At the center of it all is precocious, funny, slightly annoying Flavia, with her mousy brown braids and knack for getting out of tight spots (it helps to be little). Amid all the fun, Bradley allows moments of poignancy. Caught in one of those tight spots, Flavia believes no one in her Britishly undemonstrative family loves her. Maybe her mother loved her once, but the restless Harriet left Flavia when she was a year old and disappeared on one of her adventures.

Though Flavia narrates the story, the voice seems too adult for even a very bright child. The reader can easily imagine this as a tale recounted by a jolly, eccentric old lady, maybe a retired Oxford don, to a cub reporter from The Guardian. But it matters not. Readers will want more, much more, of Flavia de Luce!

Arlene McKanic picks her poison in Jamaica, New York. Copyright 2009 BookPage Reviews.

----------------------
Kirkus Reviews 2009 March #1
A precocious 11-year-old chemist confesses to murder.Buckshaw, the de Luce ancestral home, is in a bit of an uproar. First the cook finds a dead snipe with a stamp jammed on its beak on the doorstep. Then young Flavia awakens in the dead of night to hear her taciturn father, who normally saves his passion for his stamp collection, arguing with someone. Creeping out to the cucumber patch below her window to see more, she finds a man who breathes out the word "Vale," then expires. When Inspector Hewitt arrests her father, Flavia decides that her confession will save him. Hewitt doesn't believe her, of course, and she is forced to solve the crime between making trips to her attic sanctum, poisoning her sister Ophelia's lipstick and ignoring her sister Daphne, who always has her nose in a book. The one person she trusts is the family factotum, Dogger the gardener, a shell-shocked war comrade of her father the Colonel. Her snooping leads her to an ancient episode involving her father, the corpse and another former alumnus of Greyminster who has few qualms about killing her.Brilliant, irresistible and incorrigible, Flavia has a long future ahead of her. Bradley's mystery debut is a standout chock full of the intellectual asides so beloved by Jonathan Gash readers. It might even send budding sleuths to chemistry classes.Agent: Denise Bukowski/The Bukowski Agency Copyright Kirkus 2009 Kirkus/BPI Communications.All rights reserved.

----------------------
Library Journal Reviews 2009 January #1
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 2009 April #2

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 2009 February #4

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 2009 May

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.

----------------------