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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

In as much as The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie has problems – and it does – the verve of its main protagonist and backstory of the author makes up for it.

In 1950s English village, Flavia de Luce (which tops the list for one of my favorite heroine names) is an 11-year-old chemist with a dead mother,  absent-minded father and two older sisters who alternately harass or ignore her. When a mysterious man turns up dead in the yard, Flavia becomes entangled in the mystery of who killed him.

While the killer becomes apparent fairly early on, the reader’s interest stays because of the larger mystery involving Flavia’s father and the dead man’s true identity. There are also what I think of as charming descriptions of English characters a half century ago, i.e. a lady who bicycles by is “dressed in a diaphanous muslin nightgown, and a mopcap which seemed somehow to have escaped the eighteenth century.” Flavia, while precocious, also stays within the realm of possibility by occasionally being a brat, whether it’s sassing the family housekeeper or underestimating adults around here, including a police inspector.

I liked Sweetness, but I didn’t love it. The writing and plot are stronger in The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which also features a young English woman as its central character. That said, I believe those who like the Mary Russell mysteries will enjoy this first in a series featuring Flavia. It’s also fun to read the “Conversation with Alan Bradley” in my edition, which reveals that he is a 70-year-old first time novelist. Now that’s inspiring.