The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Alan Bradley c2009
I am a sucker for child protagonists and this book did not disappoint me. Flavia de Luce is a brilliant eleven-year-old girl with a passion for chemistry, in particular the concocting of poisons. She lives with her father and her two older sisters, who fight with her mercilessly (guess why she delights in experimenting with poisons?!). Interesting secondary characters abound, including their housekeeper Mrs. Mullet, who, in Flavia’s words “… was short and grey and round as a millstone and who, I’m quite sure, thought of herself as a character in a poem by A.A. Milne…” and tortures them by baking “pus-like custard pies.”
Set in the small English town of Bishop’s Lacey during the summer of 1950, Flavia is confronted with a series of mysterious events that she is compelled to investigate. Racing around the neighbourhood with her faithful companion, Gladys (her bicycle), Flavia consults the library (of course!) and makes various inquiries around town that seem destined to land her in an impossibly difficult situation. Needless to say, she is quite resourceful, and since this is the first of a series of books, I don’t think I’ll spoil it for anyone by saying that Flavia comes through with flying colours! Some tense moments along the way, some funny ones, and some interesting and moving moments with her father, and his manservant, Dogger.
The story is captivating right from the start. We see Flavia’s unique brilliance and her ability to extricate herself from difficult situations from the first page. She is obviously extremely clever but is a bit of a loner and does not seem to associate with other children very much. Her association with Dogger is touching, the way she seeks revenge on her sisters is unique and quite entertaining, and her relationship with her father tugs at the heartstrings without being sentimental in the least.
The story whizzes along breezily, much like Flavia herself, and we are drawn in and held hostage. We are let go at the end, but by then we have developed Stockholm Syndrome and we do not want to leave this captivating young girl and her intriguing family. Fortunately, Flavia returns in The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag, and I feel compelled to go and seek her out once more. No doubt Flavia will be as spellbinding in this mystery as in the first.