For years, I’ve been hearing rave reviews of Alan Bradley’s mystery series that starts with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and I finally had the chance to read the first novel myself. It’s a fun little mystery that reminded me of my childhood days immersed in Nancy Drew books.
Although this series is for grown-ups, the main character is an 11-year old girl named Flavia who – in true Nancy Drew fashion – stumbles upon a mystery and goes about solving it before the police can figure it out. Flavia is the main attraction in this novel. She is quite precocious, a delightful young loner who is picked on by her older sisters and happiest when she is spending time in her home chemistry lab and learning more about poisons.
The novel takes place in the English countryside in 1950. Flavia’s distant, stamp-loving father has a mysterious midnight visitor who ends up dead in the cucumber patch the next morning. The only other clue is a dead crow left on the doorstep with a stamp stuck in its beak. To give you an idea of Flavia’s unique joie de vivre, here is what she thinks when she finds the dead body in the garden:
“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.”
The story proceeds as most mystery novels do, with the young detective following clues, taking risks, and slowly unraveling what happened. As you can probably tell even from that brief quote above, Flavia adds an extra layer of interest, and the author uses a subtle sense of humor to enhance the story.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this clever novel – it was a pleasant diversion during what was a difficult week for me. I don’t know whether I’ll read more of the series or not. I’m not normally a hug fan of British mysteries – I enjoy one now and then but don’t normally seek them out. But if I was to read another novel of this genre, Flavia certainly adds an extra appeal to the story, and I would enjoy seeing where her sleuthing leads her.
You can watch a brief video preview of the book here.
370 pages, Delacorte Press