Book Review: Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
9780385342308, $23

Intriguing cover. Interesting premise. Snotty British accents. Child narrator interested in chemistry and the properties of poison. Murder over stamp collecting.

It all sounds like it would lead to a rompy, well-written, literary, murder mystery of a novel doesn’t it? And it almost does, with the slight exception that (to me, my own opinion here) it’s just pretentious and aware of itself enough that I kept getting pulled out of the story, had to put the book down, go away for a while, and in the end it took me about 2 months to finish! But, for all of those readers out there who enjoy a book about the English countryside, and all manner of things relating to people in the English countryside – nosy neighbors, privileged family with land but no money, boarding school chums, custard pie – this is the perfect read.

Flavia De Luce could easily be the criminal mastermind of post-World War II Britain, despite being only 11 year’s old. She’s fascinated by all things chemistry, but especially the chemical properties of poisons. When a red-headed midnight visitor to her father is discovered dead in the cucumber patch below her bedroom window, Falvia sets out to solve the mystery of the stranger’s death – partially to prove her father’s innocence (he’s been charged with the murder), and partially because she’s fixated on the mysterious death and wants to unearth the chemical properties that might have caused it. Despite of (or with the help of?) the Inspector in charge of the investigation, Flavia manages to make her way around the English countryside with the help of her trusty bicycle Gladys. Searching people’s rooms, breaking into the library archives, investigating her father’s old boarding school, no place is off-limits to the insatiable curiousity of Flavia. And wouldn’t you know it – by the end, murder solved.

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