The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

sweetness at the bottomFlavia de Luce is no ordinary eleven-year-old. She has an unusual family (two difficult older sisters named Ophelia and Daphne, a distant father, and a mother who died in a mountaineering accident when Flavia was just a baby.) The household staff is peculiar (Mrs. Mullet, who is the worst baker in three counties, and Dogger, who still has Issues from his time in the war.) And Flavia herself is an expert in chemistry, particularly poisons and their antidotes.

Given all of this, it is perhaps no surprise that when a man dies in the cucumber-patch right in front of Flavia’s eyes, her reaction is not horror but interest and delight: she has a mystery to solve! And thus begins Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, a fun and original romp through English village life, poisons, philately, and the wild and wooly mind of Flavia de Luce. As the book unfolds, we discover more about Flavia’s family, especially her father. We see inside the many outbuildings of the town library. We follow one red herring and then another, until finally the answer becomes clear. The entire mystery is narrated in Flavia’s unmistakable voice: naive and yet witty, insecure and brash at the same time.

I didn’t think this book was perfect. For one thing, the proofreading was sloppy; I found typos on nearly every other page. But more importantly, I thought it could have used one last edit just to make it smarter. There were a number of things Flavia made reference to, placed special emphasis on, that never showed up again. That toccata by Pietro Domenico Paradisi, for instance, or the fact that when she thinks of rows of stamps she thinks of CaMg (really?). I really, really wanted these tidbits to be clues of some kind, to find their way into the mystery, but they never did. The actual solution seemed a little lackluster to me, a bit far-fetched, both in character and in method. And I also felt that at the end of the book, none of the characters had changed: father, sisters, Dogger, all were the same as they were at the beginning.

That, however, is nit-picking. Overall, I very, very much enjoyed this book, and I would certainly read more of Bradley’s if he came out with another Flavia de Luce mystery. It was well-written, and I thought it was a great deal of fun to speed through the countryside on Gladys the bicycle with a young poisoner like Flavia. I’d do it again in a heartbeat.

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9 Responses to The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

  1. Melanie says:

    I loved this one too — very funny and clever. And don’t worry, the second one is coming out soon. He apparently has been given a six book deal!

  2. Kristen M. says:

    I didn’t notice any of these faults because I just got caught up in the freshness of Flavia and the story! I would bet that I would catch more in a re-read though.

    And on a side note, is proofreading just going down the drains these days? I find so many obvious errors in many of today’s releases. It’s incredibly annoying!

  3. avisannschild says:

    This one is definitely on my wish list, although I’m disappointed to hear about the sloppy proofreading and the abandoned references. Those kinds of things drive me crazy! I still want to read this one though!

  4. Jenny says:

    Melanie — a six-book deal! Well, we all know English villages are rife with crime :)

    Kristen — I am with you 100% on the annoyingness of proofreading errors. It’s probably even worse for Teresa, because she does this kind of thing professionally. And I do find it much more often in recent releases.

    Avisannschild — I definitely recommend overlooking the proofreading problems to read this one. It’s great fun and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!

  5. Teresa says:

    I don’t know if proofreading problems are more or less annoying to me because of my work. I can forgive some gaffes because I know how easy it is to miss certain mistakes–especially if they’re right next to more serious mistakes that did get caught.

    I think publishers are trying to save money by combining steps or not giving enough time for copyediting and proofing, which is why we’re seeing more errors make it into print. And that does bother me–a lot. Good editors end up looking bad because they’re asked to do more than is reasonable.

    Anyway, this book was already on my list, and it looks like it’s staying there–errors and all.

  6. Jeanne says:

    I reviewed this one recently and liked it too. Oddly, I didn’t notice the errors. I did like the toccata appreciation scene because I thought it was part of Flavia’s character development.

  7. Tara says:

    I am looking forward to reading this – I scored a copy on paperbackswap! How annoying about the typo’s…I notice those things, too.

  8. Jenny says:

    Teresa — thanks for the insight. It makes sense that cost-cutting would be at the back of this, as it is at the back of so many of life’s small pinpricks. :)

    Jeanne — It makes perfect sense that the toccata would be part of the character development (along with several other things) — I just wanted things to repeat, to tuck in loose ends, to have themes and motifs. It felt just a tiny bit scattered to me. I look forward to seeing whether this improves as Bradley goes on.

    Tara — I’m sure you’ll love it!

  9. Pingback: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie « Care's Online Book Club

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