Tuesday, June 23, 2009


The 'hook' of our latest mystery - The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie - is the protagonist: an 11-year old British girl named Flavia. Her method of coping with an emotionally distant widowed father and two unpleasant older sisters has been a fanatic devotion to the study of chemistry. (Since Flavia is the narrator of the story, she gets to depict her sisters as unpleasantly as she wants). Her ordinary life gets a bit shaken up when she overhears her father having a violent argument with a red-haired stranger, and then finds the stranger dead in the cucumber patch that night. Being resourceful, meddlesome and curious, Flavia sets off the solve the mystery herself, using her vast knowledge of chemistry.
This is author Alan Bradley's first novel, and he does an excellent job of capturing the voice of an 11-year-old girl. Flavia reminded me of Harriet (Harriet the Spy) and Scout (To Kill a Mockingbird), and she's a great example of the depth and potential that kids that age can have. I think Bradley had a harder time capturing a true British atmosphere. I'm not British, and I've never been to Britain, but I've read enough authors from the U.K. to realize that North Americans have a tendency to sprinkle their "British" dialogue with a bit too many 'pip, pip cheerios' and 'gor blimeys'. But after a few chapters either I got used to Flavia's speech patterns or the author toned them down.
The plot itself is interesting, even if some of it is a bit far-fetched. Bradley is currently working on another book featuring Flavia, and I'm looking forward to seeing if he smooths out some of the rough edges. In the meantime, I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys traditional British mysteries, especially those focused on village life. Since there is no sex, strong language or graphic violence, this book will also appeal to anyone looking for a nice, gentle read.

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