Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

"The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" is as delicious a mystery novel as the custard pies featured prominently in the plot are vile. Except for the murderer's rather gruesome method, this is a thoroughly charming book with a delighful young sleuth.

In 1950, eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce is a precocious pigtail wearing, bespectacled little girl with a passion for chemistry, particularly deadly poisons. When the housekeeper finds a dead bird lying on the doorstep with a postage stamp impaled upon its beak, and Flavia herself discovers a dead man in the cucumber patch at Buckshaw, the family's decaying manor house near the quaint little village of Bishop's Lacey, it is the most thrilling moment of Flavia's life thus far.

Brimming over with enthusiasm, she mounts her trusty bicycle, christened "Gladys," and eagerly sets out to solve the mystery, and clear her father's name when he is accused of the crime. She soon uncovers a connection to the theft of a rare postage stamp during his schooldays and the mysterious and tragic death of a popular teacher that followed soon after.

As usual where mysteries are concerned, I prefer to keep my reviews brief, rather than risk giving too much away. So, suffice it to say, I enjoyed this one thoroughly and hope young Miss de Luce will again grace the pages of Mr. Bradley's future books. The cast of characters is memorable and colorful, there are no bland, cardboard cutout characters here, and he does a fine job of capturing the class system that still existed in England at the time in the way that the villagers defer to the de Luce family.

"The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" is a real page-turner that, if I weren't already an insomniac, would have kept me up all night.

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