The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is the first in an old-fashioned mystery series set in 1950s England. Flavia de Luce, the protagonist and sleuth, is 11 years old. Despite her age, the main focus of the story is the mystery, not the experience of being 11. Adults in the story will use words or reference events that she does not understand but you, as the reader, will. That is not to say that she is an annoyingly childish narrator; Flavia is delightfully clever and ambitious. I’m starting to think about what I want to read this spring break, and this series keeps coming to mind. It strikes a perfect balance between a likable narrator and enough mystery to keep me interested in the plot while traveling.
Flavia lives in an old English manor with her sisters (who despise her) and father (who mostly ignores them all). She is an aspiring chemist and has her own chemistry lab in one of the many empty rooms. When a stranger is found dead in the garden, this is what she has to say: “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 book follows Flavia’s investigation of the circumstances surrounding murder. Her witty commentary on what she finds gives a glimpse of her logic and her thrill at the unsolved mystery. Despite my age advantage, I did not figure out the mystery before Flavia did. That isn’t to say that a more careful reader couldn’t (since I am the last person to ever accurately predict the ending of anything). I point this our to say that the plot was complicated enough to keep me guessing.
I first read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie while searching for a book club pick a few years ago. I throughly enjoyed the book, but did not feel any urgency to read the rest of the series. I ended up choosing another book for the book club, but I have always kept this one ready when someone asks for a book recommendation. It is clean, smart, and enjoyable. It is a quick read without being one-dimensional. Since I first read it, seven more mysteries have been published in the series. I clearly have some reading to do.
I would recommend this to: fans of mysteries, precocious children, and chemistry. (Come to think of it, I have no love for chemistry and I enjoyed the book anyway.)