by Alan Bradley
With the notable exception of Harriet Welsch, the eponymous heroine of Harriet the Spy, the classic novel for young teens by Louise Fitzhugh, I don’t believe I’ve ever encountered a more delightful young sleuth than 11–year–old bicycle riding chemistry whiz Flavia de Luce, the intrepid narrator of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Delacorte, 2009), a first novel by Alan Bradley. Early one summer morning in 1950, in the garden of Buckshaw, her family’s estate in the British countryside, Flavia discovers a man on the verge of death, lying among the cucumbers. His last word is “Vale,” which Flavia knows, means “farewell” in Latin. When her reclusive father is arrested by the local constable for the man’s murder (for a death by natural causes it is not), she takes it upon herself to discover the real perpetrator of the crime. Flavia’s detecting skills would be the envy of Sherlock Holmes (or at least Watson), and her bravery is amply demonstrated during a frightening encounter with a dastardly villain who will stop at nothing to get what he wants. Truly a heroine to admire! The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie makes perfect summer reading — it’s gore–free, very funny in places, nicely written, not too sweet (despite the title) and narrated by a real charmer. Here’s how Flavia describes how she knows that her adversary is lying to her:
It was a lie and I detected it at once. As an accomplished fibber myself, I spotted the telltale signs of an untruth before they were halfway out of his mouth: the excessive detail, the offhand delivery, and the wrapping–up of it all in casual chitchat.
And here she’s trying to figure out how to get out of the dangerous situation she finds herself in:
I remembered a piece of sisterly advice, which Feely once gave Daffy and me: “If ever you’re accosted by a man,” she’d said, “kick him in the Casanovas and run like blue blazes!” Although it had sounded at the time like a useful bit of intelligence, the only problem was that I didn’t know where the Casanovas were located. I’d have to think of something else.
I can’t wait for the sequel.