I just finished reading Alan Bradley’s book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and it was one of the best books I’ve readin 2009. No question.
‘Sweetness’ is set in 1950 and introduces the reader to Flavia de Luce, a British 11 year old Chemistry prodigy, who stumbles onto a mystery when she finds a nearly dead stranger in her family’s cucumber patch. The dying man utters the Latin ‘Vale!’ and dies at Flavia’s feet. Instead of being frightened, Flavia sets out to determine the dead man’s identity and the reason for his trespass on her family’s extensive estate. Her father is eventually arrested for the murder, but Flavia is certain there must be a more logical (and happy) solution to the murder. She uses her vast chemical knowledge and insatiable curiosity in surprising ways to secure a predictably happy ending (the solution isn’t obvious, but the journey to the happy resolution will keep you on the edge of your seat).
I’m not sure how to do justice to the remarkable character that Alan Bradley has created. Flavia is 11 going on 65 at some points in the story (much to the chagrin of the police detective) and at others every bit the scheming and ‘put upon’ little sister to two older teenage sisters. She’s impressively brave and clever–Miss Marple-ish at times requiring refinement and a cool head in her interactions with adults, and Hermione Granger-esque when faced with overwhelming physical challenges. I loved the fact that Flavia did something unexpected on almost every page. She kept revealing new facets of her personality as the story unfolded.
Luckily for me (and other fortunate readers), Bradley has apparently finished a second Flavia mystery and may well be at work on book number three. I believe I heard this is to be a four book series. I hope it lasts much, much longer as I can’t wait to see what else Bradley does with Flavia’s character.