The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was published in 2009. It was written by Alan Bradley (b. 1938), a Canadian author. The novel won an Agatha Award and a Barry Award among others. The copy that I read has traveled around the world. It was purchased from Amazon, traveled to NYC, to Egypt, and back again. It went to Charlotte, NC and to Charleston, SC. By the time it got into my paws, it looked well-enjoyed. I read it all in about four days.
I really liked the main character of the novel. She is witty, charming, and intelligent. The fact that she is a young girl (11 years old) is kind of interesting, because I would not have thought to like the character so much. She is too intelligent for her age. Really, no 11 year olds are that intelligent. It works in this novel, though, because this is just a light fiction mystery and I am not demanding much from it.
The storyline is only average. A murder occurs at the Buckshaw property. The young main character, Flavia de Luce, sets about to solve the mystery – at first because she is intrigued, then later to clear her father of charges. Flavia is incredibly resourceful and independent and is contrasted with her older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne. Their mother, Harriet, died and the girls live at Buckshaw without a whole lot of parental interference. Flavia uses her freedom to do scientific studies or to torment her sisters. The murder gives her a chance to utilize all of her knowledge and skill and, as I think, saves her from some of the boredom she must feel at Buckshaw.
The little British village they live in is typical and predictable. There are nosy old women, gossips, puttering inn-keepers, etc. There are also a handful of teenagers who fall in and out of love with each other. The local church is the parish home to all of the residents and Flavia takes us on a tour to all of the points of interest in the village. The novel takes place in 1950 – and the country is still healing and rebuilding from the war efforts. Not just the land and infrastructure, of course, but also the psychologies of the inhabitants.
There are a lot of witty moments and neat scenes in the novel. One of my favorites was on page 49 where Flavia is rebelling against the cook’s seed biscuits:
Seed biscuits and milk! I hated Mrs. Mullet’s seed biscuits the way Saint Paul hated sin. Perhaps even more so. I wanted to clamber up onto the table, and with a sausage on the end of a fork as my scepter, shout in my best Laurence Olivier voice, “Will no one rid us of this turbulent pastry cook?”
Overall, I think that Bradley has written a really good novel. The main character is awesome, but the other characters are a little bit flat. I like how accurately, smoothly, and insightful Bradley worked in the setting and time period. This is done so well, it is difficult to imagine that the author did not grow up in Bishops Lacey in 1950 and that this is his first novel. The plot is not great. It is sufficient. There are a lot of reasons to recommend this novel and I think it has reached a large audience. I will definitely be trying to read the rest of the series and I am thrilled that there are several more books! Also, I am fond of how all of these colorful covers will look together on my bookshelves.