BWW Reviews: Alan Bradley's Eleven-Year-Old Detective Charms in THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE
With the arrival of a new Flavia de Luce mystery, THE DEAD IN THEIR VAULTED ARCHES, which we'll review here shortly, it's worth revisiting author Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce series in order to play catch-up. Although the mysteries in general, and Flavia's unique charm, stand on their own all the time, there is a family story arc as well throughout the books, one that presents some mysteries of its own. We'll start at the beginning, with the equally uniquely titled - Bradley is the king of delightful ad obscurely found titles - THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE (Bantam Books).
Flavia is a classic English spinster detective, in the mold of Christie's Miss Jane Marple, sharp tongue and all, but for one small detail: Flavia is eleven. No Encyclopedia Brown or Harriet the Spy, Flavia is a knowledgeable, if irksome-to-others, scientist and observer, a mostly-self-educated genus, who, living in the family manse, Buckshaw, has found the Victorian laboratory of her scientist forebear, Tarquin de Luce. In it, she studies his texts, learns his secrets, and experiments in clever attempts to poison her two annoying older sisters.
Flavia's lovably precocious, if she's not a downright pain - and she's possibly both at the same time. Her speech - she narrates her own tales - is certainly at a highly adult level (there's no clarity as to whether she's narrating immediately after the fact, or recalling events as an adult), as well as darkly and delightfully humorous. "My spine, as they say, turned to ice. For a moment I thought he was having a heart attack, as sedentary fathers often do. One minute they are crowing at you to chew every mouthful twenty-nine times and the next you are reading about them in the Daily Telegraph..." And then there's, in relation to her skulking about in the process of investigating, "I slid my feet slowly one in front of the other, like some sensuous senorita doing the tango, and stopped abruptly at the door." She's a riot of figures of speech, as well as a master of sneaking about, eavesdropping, and childish manipulation to ferret out information - and then, able to dash back to the antique laboratory at Buckwood to prove her theories.
In THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE, Flavia has the exciting dubious privilege of stumbling across a nearly dead body in the back yard. It is, of course, the nearly dead body of a gentleman with whom her father was arguing in his study only the evening before. An eleven-year-old of lesser stuff would be horrified and shocked - Flavia, naturally, is intrigued and excited, as well as positive that the Most Likely Suspect, her father, is not at all responsible.