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Flavia de Luce #1

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

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It is the summer of 1950–and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then, hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.

For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. “I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.”

374 pages, Hardcover

First published April 28, 2009

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About the author

Alan Bradley

35 books8,026 followers
Librarian Note: There is more than one author in the Goodreads database with this name.

With an education in electronic engineering, Alan worked at numerous radio and television stations in Ontario, and at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University) in Toronto, before becoming Director of Television Engineering in the media centre at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, where he remained for 25 years before taking early retirement to write in 1994.

He became the first President of the Saskatoon Writers, and a founding member of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. His children's stories were published in The Canadian Children's Annual, and his short story, Meet Miss Mullen, was the first recipient of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for Children's Literature.

For a number of years, he regularly taught Script Writing and Television Production courses at the University of Saskatchewan (Extension Division) at both beginner and advanced levels.

His fiction has been published in literary journals and he has given many public readings in schools and galleries. His short stories have been broadcast by CBC Radio.

He was a founding member of The Casebook of Saskatoon, a society devoted to the study of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockian writings. Here, he met the late Dr. William A.S. Sarjeant, with whom he collaborated on their classic book, Ms Holmes of Baker Street. This work put forth the startling theory that the Great Detective was a woman, and was greeted upon publication with what has been described as "a firestorm of controversy".

The release of Ms. Holmes resulted in national media coverage, with the authors embarking upon an extensive series of interviews, radio and television appearances, and a public debate at Toronto's Harbourfront. His lifestyle and humorous pieces have appeared in The Globe and Mail and The National Post.

His book The Shoebox Bible (McClelland and Stewart, 2006) has been compared with Tuesdays With Morrie and Mr. God, This is Anna.

In July of 2007 he won the Debut Dagger Award of the (British) Crimewriter's Association for his novel The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, the first of a series featuring eleven year old Flavia de Luce, which has since won the 2009 Agatha Award for Best First Novel,the 2010 Dilys Award,the Spotted Owl Award, and the 2010 Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie has also been nominated for the Macavity, the Barry, and the Arthur Awards.

Alan Bradley lives in Malta with his wife Shirley and two calculating cats.

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5 stars
45,829 (28%)
4 stars
62,492 (38%)
3 stars
39,739 (24%)
2 stars
11,060 (6%)
1 star
4,509 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 17,783 reviews
Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 47 books128k followers
December 3, 2009
This book probably deserves 4 stars, but to me, as far as how much I enjoyed it, 5 stars baby!

Having just read Steig Larssen's "Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" I hadn't expected to stumble on a heroine as quickly that I'd love as much. But Flavia fits the bill!

This is a historical mystery, set in England in the late 40's/ (51 maybe?) Anyway, Flavia is 11 going on 40. She's a genius, perhaps a mad one, who knows. She is drawn into a wonderful mystery that I don't want to spoil, but her tenacity and drive and clever deductions make for a wonderful read. She reminds me of what I would have loved to be at 11, independent and forward and free. Yes, sometimes I got ahead of her in solving some clues, but honestly I think the author intended it, as she IS 11 (which is easy to forget when she is so precocious.)

I love loved this book and will eagerly await another adventure with Flavia.
Profile Image for Hannah.
796 reviews
August 16, 2010
I really wanted to like this more then I ended up doing. The story started off slowly, then picked up steam with a murder to solve and some interesting backstory on stamps. What hindered my enjoyment of the book, the story and the murder mystery was, unfortunately, the main character and detective: Flavia duLuce.

To say that young Flavia is precocious is an understatement. She has to be one of the most intelligent, well spoken, criminal minds since Sherlock Holmes. Problem is, she's only 11 years old, and she's totally unbelievable to me. Hey, I respect intelligent fictional kids as crime solvers - I grew up reading Trixie Belden for pete's sake. But Flavia's brand of intelligence is far beyond what I can believe or accept in a pint-size crime solver. As a result, I spent the majority of the book rolling my eyes over the things she said, the deductions she made, and the way she handled the sticky situations she found herself in.

Look, I can suspend my belief in unbelievable books when the author creates a world that I can accept. (Case in point: a 100 year old sparkling virgin vampire). Flavia, however, resisted all my attempts to reconcile and readjust my mind-set to embrace. She's obviously got a goodly number of admirers. As for me, I side with her sisters in wanting to lock her in a dark closet and keep her there...
Profile Image for Carol.
325 reviews863 followers
May 31, 2016
So ... I'm the outlier. I cannot abide Flavia de Luce - yes, the same Flavia de Luce that everyone else in the reading universe - or at least the subset of those who enjoy mysteries - loves, adores, enjoys. For months I hid my outlier status by changing the applicable shelf from "currently reading" to "to read", but have decided that today I shall end the deception and own my outlier status. I am a grown woman. I can handle the blow back from admitting that being forced to read one more page relating to Flavia de Luce would be an effective means of torture for anyone seeking a method to use on me, for future reference. I shall not read Bradley's novels in a box, or with a fox. So help me, God.
Profile Image for Mario the lone bookwolf.
797 reviews3,631 followers
July 3, 2022
A clever, witty and perfectly orchestrated young adult crime fun.

Females can be introverted and autistic too
The rise of more female main protagonists, not just in movies, but also in literature has begun and this masterpiece is a prime example of it. I like that the main protagonist idealizes MINT, especially chemistry with its forensic potential, and is so smart in comparison with her stereotypical, superficial barby doll sisters.

Prodigy protagonists deliver high quality puns
The sarcasm and extremely wise world view of the first person characterization gives a unique and intense insight into the thinkings and feelings of an outstanding intelligent girl. In many literary cases, such talents are mixed with deficits in reading others mimic, feelings and intentions, but Flavia is brilliant in each regard, even in social regards. Although one could also see it as trips into sociopathic lands.

A good chemistry of genre elements
No matter if one likes irony, characters reflecting and overanalyzing anything, a fine crime plot or just a very well written young adult novel with a memorable lead character, this series has something for each group. And the stronger focus on characters than on action and fast plotting is a great alternative in a genre filled with blockbuster magic overkills.

Tropes show how literature is conceived and which mixture of elements makes works and genres unique:
Profile Image for Maureen .
1,385 reviews7,088 followers
November 22, 2021
Flavia De Luce is an eleven year old with a penchant for poisons – and she is by far the most balanced and normal member of her household! She is also precocious, endearing, as fiercely intelligent as she is independent, with a fascination with science – particularly the chemistry of poisons, producing a debut novel that is entertaining, funny, and exciting.

An English country house setting, and an ingenious murder weapon will keep the reader absorbed from start to finish. The 1950s setting provides sufficient freedom for Flavia, the heroine, to spend long hours unsupervised without provoking the interest of social services.

This is a murder mystery in the traditional setting of an old country house, but ‘The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie’ takes a distinctly untraditional slant, which results in a richly rewarding reading experience.
Profile Image for Matthew.
1,219 reviews8,839 followers
April 28, 2020
An 11-year-old wunderkind detective who is obsessed with poison . . . maybe more disturbing than the mystery she is solving . . . but charming as hell!

Meet Flavia de Luce – sometimes funny, sometimes lucky, sometimes brilliant beyond her years, sometimes in the wrong place at the wrong time, always kinda creepy!

I think maybe Wednesday Addams is a good comparison – perhaps a more adorable and less dark Wednesday:

The book was okay – it bogged down A LOT in the middle with the history of British stamps. I listened to this book and it was about 9 hours long and it seemed like a 3 hour chunk was dedicated to a backstory around stamps. I think if that could have been less voluminous it would have helped the pacing some. But, if you are a huge fan of stamps (a philatelist perhaps – a word used many, many times in this book) then this might be the mystery for you!

I am glad that I read this one as I have heard a lot of people talking about it. It was definitely worth the mini-escape it provides. However, I don’t think I will be reading any more in the series – it just didn’t interest me enough to keep moving on with this character.
Profile Image for Trin.
1,786 reviews558 followers
March 18, 2009
A historical mystery, set in England, narrated by a precocious 11-year-old girl. I feel like I should have loved this, but mostly it just bored me. Flavia’s narration, designed to show off how brilliant she is, lacked the necessary wit and charm, and her investigation into a couple of murders and some missing stamps was full of weird leaps of logic and sideways-step conclusions. I never felt involved or like any part of the story was real or mattered.
Profile Image for Tatiana.
1,401 reviews11.7k followers
June 15, 2010
Flavia de Luce is an 11-year old amateur sleuth, a future chemist and poison enthusiast. She lives with her widowed father and two older sisters at Buckshaw - a decaying English country-side mansion. Flavia's days are occupied with chemical experiments and schemes of spiking her evil older sister Ophelia's lipstick with poison ivy. That is until one fateful day a dead bird with a postage stamp stuck to its beak is found on the doorstep of Buckshaw. Even more, soon after Flavia finds a dead man in the cucumber patch and witnesses his last breath. Flavia is not shocked or upset by the event (after all, she doesn't even know the man). Quite the opposite, she is energized and excited - finally she can apply her genius brain to something useful - to solving a crime!

At the core of the novel is a murder mystery. It is not particularly complicated or mind-blowing, it is rather easy to solve. But the strength of "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" is not in the mystery. It is in the setting, an amusing cast of characters, and mainly - in its narrator. Flavia is a charming heroine with a very distinct "voice" that is a perfectly blended combination of childish innocence and book smarts.

"The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" is a delight to read. It is light and has an air of innocence about it. The story is set in 1950 (although it feels like a decade or two earlier at times), the time when 11-year old girls could still ride their bicycles to the nearby villages without the fear of being snatched by some psycho, and it's a relief to read a book without constantly freaking out about a child's safety.

I think this book will appeal to a lot of people who enjoy reading mysteries without gore and excessive violence, those who are looking for a comfort read, an English country-side mystery sprinkled with humor, poisons, and philately.
Profile Image for Dorie  - Cats&Books :).
993 reviews2,780 followers
February 13, 2019
**All time favorite and beginning of my love with the Flavia books**

Flavia de Luce is one of the most unique young heroines I've ever encountered in literature. Story takes place in England in the 1950's. Flavia is the youngest of 3 sisters and unlike many girls her age. She is IN LOVE with everything chemistry. She spends most of her time in her own company reading complicated college and beyond chemistry books and has a well stocked lab which she uses to conjure up all manner of things, including a bacteria stocked tube of lipstick to make her sister's lips blister!

The story starts with the discovery of a dead bird on the doorstep with a stamp through it's beak, then a man who shows up at their doorstep who argues with her father, she isn't able to see the man's face. In the morning Flavia discovers a man drawing his last breath in the garden.

The story is wonderfully told in her intelligent, impish British accent, at times just a touch annoying. This story just got better and better from beginning to end. She was way ahead of the police in solving the crime, at the end informing the police chief of all of the details, how it was accomplished, how she figured it all out, etc, to the chief's amazement.

Very, very good story. Great writing, wonderful heroine, descriptive prose well describing the British countryside, sounds and smells. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Profile Image for David.
47 reviews
May 6, 2014
I absolutely loved Sweetness. The narrator-protagonist is one of the cleverest, liveliest, most entertaining characters I have had the pleasure to meet in many a year. I laughed aloud many times and couldn't wait to get back to reading this gem. Flavia is the 11-year-old daughter of a widower in England in the 50s. She loves science and mystery, despises her haughty clueless sisters, and is plotting to poison them and get away with it. When mysterious crimes happen at the family home, she thrusts herself into solving them.

I have a definite soft spot for wit and humor in fiction and this book hit it out of the park on that score. Add to the mix a good mystery and the prospect of many more stories to come featuring this spunky scientist pre-teen and I am really excited!
Profile Image for Magill.
474 reviews14 followers
December 5, 2010
A mystery about a precocious child, whom I would like to like, but suspect that she would not be enjoyable to be around. Flavia, when not tormenting her eldest sister, attempts to solve a murder in 1950 in Great Britain. I wanted to like this book, as much as the title appealed to me, but only finished out of a sense of duty, having bought the book based on the reviews rather than borrowing it. A good lesson, to remind me of the perils of random purchasing.

My quibbles, if anyone is so interested:
1) Eleven? Really? Hard to bite on that premise, as her being little older would have been less of a strain on the imagination, not a lot, but it would have helped.

2) Perhaps the first person narrative added to the believability challenge; her descriptions/observations were not in keeping with her age or experience (e.g. in Ch. 5 " Now, a quarter century after the last Lagonda had rolled out of its doors, the building had fallen, like old crockery in the servant's quarters, into a kind of chipped and broken decrepitude." Or this little beauty from Ch.12 " ... as if some sour old chamberlain were looking on dyspeptically as his mistress unfurled silk stockings over her long, youthful legs.") I had no problems with the observations themselves, just that their source was an eleven-year-old, genius or not. A third person narrative might have been less jarring, though still rather over-written (if not purple prose then at least mauve).

3) Perhaps her knowledge of so many topics, not just having taught herself chemistry, but books, movies and music was just a little too much to swallow. Specific references include: "The Third Man" 1949, "Cinderella" 1950 (if it played in GB as it was only in limited release in the US in 1950 - although perhaps besides the gramophone she also had a record player and a copy of the one of the 1949 78-rpm recordings),"We Dive at Dawn 1943", "Modern Times" 1936 (the last Little Tramp film), "A Matter of Life and Death" 1946; various titled classical music pieces with some rather strong opinions and composer preferences. And apparently she also was conversant with her history and Olivier, picturing him as Henry II, in a quote which sounds Shakespearean, but isn't. Also Poe, du Maurier, Stephen Leacock, Gilbert and Sullivan, netsuke, lock-picking and the prison system (Wormwood Scrubs). Quite impressive, since in 1950 she wasn't attending school; good thing she was self motivated.

Maybe the author was trying to anchor the book into the time and place, but the references had the opposite effect of reassuring me, drawing my attention and distracting me from the story itself (as should be obvious by the fact I looked up some of the info stated above).

Since this is the author's first book, I might be inclined to borrow the second book and see if there are any stylistic improvements, but suspect that, with all the accolades for book one, there would be little incentive to do so.

Profile Image for Laurie.
Author 162 books6,318 followers
June 17, 2009
Ignore the title, please, and go for the essence. Flavia de Luce is an eleven year-old Sherlock Holmes with a predilection for the dark side of rural crime and a hobby of poisons. This will be the first in what promises to be an utterly original and delicious series. Adult preoccupations and values may confront Flavia, but they do not greatly impress her; by the story's end, the reader can only agree.
Profile Image for Dan Schwent.
2,929 reviews10.6k followers
May 28, 2015
When young Flavia de Luce, aspiring chemist, finds a body in the cucumber patch outside her father's house, she finds herself caught up in a web of deceit and murder...

I'm not really sure how my love of detective fiction led me to this tale of an eleven year old girl in 1950s England solving a mystery involving stamps but I'm glad it did.

Flavia de Luce is a precocious English girl with a passion for chemistry in general and poisons in particular. She lives in an English country house with her father and two sisters, Ophelia and Daphne. The mystery component of the book is secondary to the delightful antics of Flavia. She's funny as hell and wise beyond her years.

Bradley's writing takes what probably would have been a two star mystery and kicks things up several notches. The writing style reminds me of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers with a pinch of P.G. Wodehouse and was a delight to read.

The mystery itself isn't that great, although Bradley red herring-ed my ass about a fourth of the way through. Parts of it reminded me of Nancy Drew and others reminded me of the cozy mysteries of yore. I was less than 100 pages in when I resolved to read the entire series.

Four out of five stars. I'm looking forward to reading more adventures of Flavia de Luce.
Profile Image for Adina ( A lot of catching up to do) .
826 reviews3,241 followers
July 26, 2016
A different kind of mystery book that I found fascinating.

First star is for the heroine. A witty 11 years old precocious girl, with a passion for chemistry, especially poison who finds a dead body in her garden and decides to investigate the murder herself.

Two stars are for the setting. The novel is set in the English countryside in the 1950'. The girl and her family live in an old mansion at the outskirts of a small village. I really enjoyed the small village atmosphere where everybody knew each other.

Finally, one star for the plot and the writing. I found myself totally engrossed by Flavia's adventure. i loved how the action was "enhanced" by historic and literature references.

I read an interesting thing about the author. He started writing book at 70. WOW. And now there are 7 books in the series. it seems there is never too late to find a new vocation.

A very enjoyable read, a bit of fresh air.

Profile Image for Beverly.
807 reviews292 followers
March 30, 2018
I am a sucker for girl power. I say that right off the bat, so I loved the malevolent girl detective Flavia who although she has some serious issues with her sisters is so darn plucky and strong that I couldn't help but be in her corner. Her beloved father is accused of murder and it's up to her to prove his innocence as the police seem to be going by the old adage, if you're in the vicinity you're the guy.
Profile Image for Kathryn.
4,249 reviews
October 8, 2009
"There are times, Miss de Luce... when you deserve a brass medal. And there are other times when you deserve to be sent to your room with bread and water." -- Inspector Hewitt to Flavia de Luce: budding sleuth, brilliant chemist, and diabolical eleven-year-old.

After very high hopes, I almost gave up on "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" after about seven chapters, finding little literary sweetness to induce in me a hunger to devour the remaining pages. Yet, the overwhelmingly positive reviews of the book made me continue and I am glad I did, though I do not think my praise is quite so high as most readers' thus far.

The opening chapter grabbed me, and then I was rather bored for several chapters. I could not picture Flavia as an eleven-year-old, she just didn't really SEEM like one, even if this was 1950s England. I am still not sure or how much I cared what happened to her, yet the story was interesting enough. Aside from Dogger, I really didn't feel much empathy for any of the characters but they managed to make an amusing enough group, Mr. de Luce and his lack of emotion for anything but stamp collecting, Flavia's older sisters Daphne and Ophilia, one with a love of make-up and the other with a love of reading... Nothing too original here.

Flaiva herself is quite the character, and I feel the above quote and description sum her up well. While I admire her bravery and loyalty to her family in solving the crime, and her intelligence at solving it accurately, I really could not LIKE her. She is the sort of child one finds amusing enough in books, but would not wish to stand next to in line for a ride at Disneyland. Her intelligence sprawls out into dangerous territory, since her love of chemistry tends to making up toxic concoctions, and one of her experiments includes putting some nasty mixture on her sisters' lipstick and waiting to see the results. Oh, dear, sibling rivalry tossed with youthful genius!

The mystery was not all that astounding. I guessed most of it myself at one point or another and I just didn't care enough about the characters to be really riveted. Sometimes, Bradley's writing drug on a bit, or got a weighted down with analogy. Still, overall this was an enjoyable read and good for those who tend to enjoy cozy mysteries as there is very little gore or violence and it's pretty clear, based on the pending sequel, that Flavia will pull through!

Profile Image for Julie .
4,029 reviews58.9k followers
October 9, 2016
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley is a 2009 Delacorte Press publication.

Several years back, I received a copy of the fifth book in this series for review purposes. I had no idea I was agreeing to read a YA mystery, and was slightly irritated at myself for not researching the context before agreeing to review it.

But, once I started reading it, I realized the novel was not necessarily for kids or young adults. In fact, I wondered if perhaps the book was for adults but marketed toward for the younger crowd due the Flavia’s age.

I was so impressed by the book, I vowed to look up the first four installments and catch up with the series. Well, that was three years ago, so suffice it say, I got a little distracted somewhere along the way. But, I see a new installment of this series was released recently, which reminded me of my pledge to get started on this series.

So, finally, I have read this book that propelled the series into the public’s consciousness.

Flavia de Luce is eleven years old in 1950 and is an aspiring chemist. Not the normal goal for young ladies in this time period, and we learn pretty early on that her entire family is a more than a little eccentric.

The mystery heats up right away after Flavia finds a body in the cucumber garden, and her father becomes the prime suspect. In order to prove her father’s innocence, Flavia must investigate a sad episode in her father’s past, which is linked to a valuable stamp.

Flavia’s first person narrative is razor sharp, and laugh out loud funny. Her adventures are tense and suspenseful, and the secondary characters add just the right amount of support, while drawing a pointedly poignant portrait of Flavia, she would rather keep hidden.

As charming as she is, Flavia is also hurting, somewhat neglected, and left to her own devices more often than not, which brought out my maternal instincts, making me wish I could give her a fierce hug and reassure her, and assuage her fears, doubts, and insecurities.

The mystery is very well done, with several twists and surprises that place Flavia in direct danger, which adds a pretty intense level of suspense to the story.

I loved the strength Flavia displays, her courage, and willingness to do what it took to help her family, which makes her a positive figure for young readers and adults alike.

Other than being a huge Harry Potter fan, and having read The Hunger Games, I have pretty much skipped over the YA phenomenon for a variety of reasons. However, this series gets my stamp of approval, so far, and I am really looking forward to Flavia’s next adventure.
4 stars

Profile Image for Nadia A.
67 reviews9 followers
August 1, 2011
Finally! I'm done! The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie has been read and crossed off of my TBR list. And now I must ask you not to hate me, because truthfully, though I did enjoy aspects of the book, I did not love it. I found it to be rather predictable, long-winded and slightly dull at times. There were moments when I had to put the book down or just rush ahead in order to avoid a passage that went on about something or other that just didn't hold my interest. I can understand why this book would be a bestseller and how so many people fell under its spell, but I just wasn't one of those people. Don't get me wrong, Flavia de Luce is ace. I loved her character's carefree spirit; her love of chemistry and potions; her experiments on her rotten sisters; and her faithful bike Gladys. What I didn't care for was everything else.

It is the summer of 1950 - and at the once-grand mansion of Buckshaw, young Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison, is intrigued by a series of inexplicable events: A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Then hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his last breath.

For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. "I wish I could say I was afraid, but I wasn't. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life."

From that summary (found on back of book) alone, I was positive that I was in for a treat. But I wasn't. I just don't think that the book was my cup of tea. Perhaps if I was a kid reading about Flavia, I would have enjoyed the book more. The sneaking out of the house, magic tricks, and intriguing mystery behind the stamp pinned to the bird's beak - all of these things would have caught my attention once upon a time. However, in the now, I just wasn't as enthralled by it all as I had hoped. Oh well, different strokes for different folks - in this case, books.
Profile Image for PattyMacDotComma.
1,435 reviews813 followers
December 22, 2020
“And then I saw the sign. A few steps up from the bottom, a length of chain was draped across the steps, with a hand-printed card:

‘Tower Off Limits — Strictly Enforced.’

I was up them like a shot.”

Yes! Intrepid is the word for 11-year-old Flavia de Luce of Buckshaw, Bishop’s Lacey. Adventurous, bold, clever, devious, enchanting, feisty – there’s an alphabet of words for this captivating ‘child’, a word I use loosely, only because technically she is only a child. ‘Captivating’ is apt, because her story may draw you in such that you find yourself checking your drink for a trace of suspicious leaves!

In her mind, she’s a brilliant poisoner, a chemistry wizard with her own personal laboratory where she schemes and develops potions with which to torment her older sister and anyone else who annoys her. She narrates her own story, and we do get a sense of her loneliness.

Her mother, Harriet, died when Flavia was very young, and she’s jealous that her older sisters Ophelia (‘Feely’) and Daphne (‘Daffy’) remember her. But she’s devoted to her absent-minded father, and when she discovers a dying man in the cucumber patch at Buckshaw early one morning and thinks her father murdered him, she goes to tremendous lengths to protect him and uncover the truth.

How did the man die? Cyanide?

“But no, the case against cyanide was that, had it been used, the victim would have been dead before I found him. (Although I have to admit that I have a soft spot for cyanide — when it comes to speed, it is right up there with the best of them. If poisons were ponies, I’d put my money on cyanide.)”

The author has said before that he never knew anything about chemistry but Flavia insisted that’s the direction she wanted to go, and who was he to argue? She seemed to have taken over her own story, so he began consulting old chemistry books, and I have to say the result is absolutely delightful.

[Declaration of interest: I digress to give another reason she appealed to me. I have a brother who is a recently retired chemistry professor, and I imagine he would have loved this little girl had he known her. As a boy, he was always thinking up clever tricks, but as far as I know, he never dabbled in poisons. Fortunately, he used his powers for good not evil.]

Flavia also worries that perhaps the culprit is Dogger, her father’s gardener, an older fellow whose nerves are so completely shattered from the war (Japanese POW camp, the Thai-Burma Railway). Rather than be frightened by his disturbing ways, Flavia loves him.

His hands were shaking badly. Whenever Dogger was like that, you always had the feeling that if you stuck out a finger and touched him, you’d be instantly electrocuted.”

She keeps an eye on him and knows he’s as loyal to her father as she is. The way she follows tiny clues and puts bits of information together is fun (you’ll learn plenty about stamps and poisons), and just the sort of thing that I enjoy in a mystery like this. I’d have loved it as a girl, and I loved it now.

Flavia de Luce is impulsive and opinionated and does make mistakes. She rides her trusty steed (bicycle) Gladys everywhere, and because she’s a child, nobody takes a whole lot of notice. Well, nobody except the police and the bad guy, but I’ll leave it at that.

I haven’t said she’s fearless, because she isn’t. Foolhardy, yes, but she does get frightened and I was frightened more than once for her.

Flavia de Luce is a great fan of Sherlock Holmes, and I bet Kerry Greenwood's Miss Phryne Fisher would have loved ‘working’ with her if they'd been contemporaries.

There’s an excellent interview with the author on Goodreads as well as many others online.

The place is charmingly beautiful.

“Miss Pickery’s Tudor cottage, halfway along, looked like something you’d see on the lid of a jigsaw puzzle box. With its thatched roof and whitewashed walls, its diamond-pane leaded-glass windows, and its red-painted Dutch door, it was an artist’s delight, its half-timbered walls floating like a quaint old ship upon a sea of old-fashioned flowers such as anemones, hollyhocks, gillyflowers, Canterbury bells, and others whose names I didn’t know.”

When asked where Bishop's Lacey is, here's what the author said.

“So where is Bishop’s Lacey? It is located in the exact geographical centre of the reader’s mind, although I have been assured by others that it is in Yorkshire – and also in Devonshire. Producer/director Sam Mendes told me he pictured it as being Buckinghamshire.”


[Note: the gorgeous photos from the website are from the Cotswolds!]

Best of all, this is only the first book of a series, so more to come!
Profile Image for Sara the Librarian.
748 reviews326 followers
May 6, 2020
On the day I finally begin my magnum opus on the world of the "girl detective" there will be an entire chapter devoted to the wonder that is Flavia de Luce.

Flavia is the most winning sociopath since Sherlock Holmes with all the charm and winning personality of every eleven year old, which is to say none. When not actively trying to murder her older sisters she can be found brewing deadly poison in her home chemistry lab. You know, kids stuff.

Flavia and her world are a chaotic mishmash of charming and cheeky British whodunnit and a real deep dive into the trauma of post World War II Europe. For all their messy fighting and witty barb slinging the de Luce sisters live under a perpetual shadow of grief for their dead mother, a woman Flavia barely remembers. Their home is a rapidly falling to ruin estate barely run by their absentee father and Flavia's only real paternal figure is the family retainer who suffers frequent bouts of PTSD.

So the murder of a mysterious stranger who was last seen having a rather violent fight with her father is a welcome and exciting diversion for the brilliant and diabolical Flavia. She's thrilled at the prospect of finding a murderer, even if it ends up being dad.

Everything about this book is devilish and delicious. I'm always in awe of an adult writer who so perfectly nails the opposite gender or a young protagonist and Alan Bradley is horrifyingly good at both. Flavia is so real it's a little frightening at times. Just as you begin to forget that this brilliant little lunatic is in fact a little girl she does something so hopelessly childlike it breaks your heart.

The mystery is pretty top drawer too which is saying something for the launch of a series. Bradley gives us a devil of a puzzle and a pretty terrifying denouement that genuinely seems like it could either way before the bad guy gets his due and Flavia is free to return to her beloved lab and dream of her next adventure.

This is a perfect balance between light and frothy and deep and dark. Like vanilla ice cream with a dark chocolate balsamic vinegar drizzled on top.

I mean it can't all be milky tea and crumpets.
Profile Image for Tea Jovanović.
Author 410 books674 followers
May 4, 2013
Prva knjiga iz serijala od šest romana o devojčici Flaviji i njenim čudnim interesovanjima i dogodovštinama... Nažalost, publika je kod nas nije prihvatila, a ni izdavač se nije adekvatno potrudio da je predstavi čitaocima... Knjiga u kojoj uživaju i tinejdžeri i odrasli širom sveta... Autor je rado viđen gost po sajmovima knjiga u svetu... Ne skida se s bestseler lista... Must read za mlade i one koji vole dobru knjigu... Veoma je zabavna! :)
Profile Image for Algernon (Darth Anyan).
1,496 reviews962 followers
January 25, 2018

Sometimes reviewing a book is a bit of a chore, especially if I really liked the novel and I want to do it justice. Other times, reviewing is sheer pleasure, and it does not necessarily follows that the book was popcorn. Revisiting bookmarks and notes proves to be a chance for laughing out loud all over again and reading just another couple of pages for the pleasure of the company of say mr. Bertie Wooster or Arthur Dent.

Flavia de Luce is that sort of companion that charms you out of your shoes and out of your other plans for the evening right from the first page of her murder investigations. An eleven year old child prodigy with her own chemical laboratory, where she concocts various poisons and plans of revenge against her two older siblings, Flavia is an unusual first person narrator an English Manor whodunit set in the 1950's, but her immense curiosity, her passion for books, her singing 'Oomba-Chukka' as she flies atop Gladys (her bicycle), her reckless courage and her sardonic wit look very promising to me for the continuation of the series.

If Feely only knew that lipstick was made from fish scales, I thought, she might be a little less eager to slather the stuff all over her mouth. I must remember to tell her. I grinned. Later.

Chemistry was like the third foreign language in my highschool curriculum, but Flavia has an interesting approach to the practical application of its principles that makes the dry formulas easier to understand. I just hope her sisters Ophelia and Daphne can survive her moments of pique.

Once I had taught myself to make sense of the chemical equations such as K4FeC6N6 + 2K = 6KCN + Fe (which describes what happens when the yellow prussiate of potash is heated with potassium to produce potassium cyanide), the universe was laid open before me: It was like having stumbled upon a recipe book that had once belonged to the witch in the wood.

As much as I enjoyed the hijinks of Flavia de Luce, the murder mystery itself came up short, despite an interesting premise of combining very rare and very valuable stamps (as in "Charade" with Audrey Hepburn and Cary Grant), a junior magician club in Oxford and a number of colorful characters in and around Buckshaw Manor. Maybe it's the fact that I guessed the identity of the culprit very early, or a series of coincidences that stretched my credulity, but I believe I will read the next books in the series more for the characters and the humor than for the actual plot. As the author notes in the notes at the back of the novel:

People probably wonder, "What's a seventy-year-old-man doing writing about an eleven-year-old-girl in 1950s England?" And it's a fair question. To me, Flavia embodies that kind of hotly burning flame of our young years: that time of our lives when we're just starting out, when anything – absolutely anything! – is within our capabilities.
Profile Image for Lisa Vegan.
2,763 reviews1,218 followers
April 19, 2010

I loved this quirky book.

The amateur sleuth and chemistry enthusiast Flavia de Luce is a very unusual 11 year old, but I’ve known many 11 year olds unusual in their own ways, so Flavia worked for me just fine. She’s completely over the top, yet somehow believable, at least within the narrative. She’s a fabulous character and a brilliant creation.

I smiled several times on almost every page, especially in the first part of the book. As with many mysteries, there was some quite scary (for me) suspense toward the end, which surprised me a bit, given the general humorous telling of the story, dark though it was. The story dragged a bit a few times in the last parts, but overall this was a completely engrossing book. I will definitely be continuing with this mystery series.
Profile Image for JEN A.
214 reviews119 followers
February 11, 2020
I really wanted to like this book but I just couldn’t get into it at all. I was never one for Nancy Drew mysteries and this reminded me of those books. The story just did not hold my interest and it took a great effort for me to finish this book.
Profile Image for Meredith Holley.
Author 2 books2,237 followers
February 10, 2010
This book is CSI to The Series of Unfortunate Events' McGyver. In my scale, a three-star rating is neutral, and that's a pretty accurate evaluation of how I feel about this story. At the risk of sounding disapproving, I'm going to make a couple of notes about why I didn't love the book. They're not things I really disliked about the book, though, just to be clear. I'm also really terrible about reading mystery stories, so, I’m disqualifying myself from evaluation. These are my general reactions, and all that is just to say that I think the reactions say more about me being a bad reader in this situation than the author being a bad writer.

Also, since writing them, I’ve realized that my reactions aren’t spoilers, but they’re probably going to ruin this book for you if you haven’t read it, so you should stop reading now and leave it at the CSI thing. That’s really all you need to know. Go read the book, and my blessings upon you. It’s too bad about missing the review, though, because if you like slapstick I tell a pretty funny story at the end. Anyway, here are my thoughts:

This story wasn't silly or dramatic to the point of ridiculousness, which left me slightly disinterested. I'd rather stories be totally over the top if they get close to the top at all. This kept a semi-real atmosphere that was informed by trivia references. A lot of the story is about slight-of-hand, and the trivia seemed like a better example of that than any of Boney's magic tricks. Again, this is the McGyver v. CSI preference. McGyver's always like, "LOOK AT HOW WEIRD THIS IS!" CSI's like, "Look at the swirley machines! Woooo! You don't understand our words! Woooo! *You'll never realize how unlikely this story is. bwuhahaha.*" I kind of like it when stories are extremely unlikely, but it makes me uncomfortable when I feel like the author is trying to distract me from it or justify it. Or maybe it just makes me feel apathetic. A lot of the chemistry lessons and cultural references in this book felt like misdirection. Also, I might feel like that because I didn’t understand ANY of the chemistry stuff, and even in the cultural references where I knew what the author was talking about, I kind of felt like I didn’t understand.

On a different note, bitchy siblings are a pet peeve of mine. It stresses me out to read about siblings who hate each other. That’s totally a personal thing, but it really affected my read of the book. I’ve honestly never met siblings who absolutely hate each other and don’t have some kind of sibling bond that transcends petty fighting. Even siblings who do fight a lot have some kind of deeper understanding, in my experience. Also, sibling bickering is just unpleasant. It doesn’t bother me to have fighting among siblings if there’s that other understanding, but the idea that the siblings inherently hate each other bugs me.

In one of my first college English classes, the professor told us to read our assignments not just for the material in front of us, but for who the author was and what the author was trying to convey – as in worldview and all that. It’s good advice, but I blame that professor for basically ruining most contemporary fiction for me. Authors often seem uncomfortable with the protagonists they choose, and I just don’t GET why people are writing what they’re writing. For example, Water For Elephants - why would a young mother living now write about a man in the 1920’s working at a circus and becoming an old decrepit crank? I don’t get it, and I spent the entire book alternately being suspicious of what she was doing and being just plain confused. Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was the same. From the blurb in the back of the book, I learned that our author is not a spunky 11-year-old British girl living in the 1940’s (1950’s?) but a retired Canadian man living now. Yes, I know it’s fiction (or, lies, as we sometimes call it), so the author can pretend to be whomever he wants, but again, why? It’s better than Water for Elephants because I mostly like our girl Flavia, but I still don’t understand, and that’s really distracting.

More specifically, my problem is that for the bulk of the story Flavia’s more adult than I am, and then she would suddenly transition to kid jokes. She’d be describing these chemical processes and doing the whole Sherlock Holmes thing, and then she’d make some kind of pun or reference to cartoons about a page later. I guess I wanted the chemistry and puns to be woven together more? Also, there were a couple of points where she’s going on about how she’s glad she’s not a boy, and that seemed awkward to me. When 11-year-old girls are riding their bikes down the street thinking to themselves, are they really glad they’re not boys? Are they even thinking about whether or not they’re boys? Was the author mad that he is a boy? Those parts brought up Virginia Woolf’s point from A Room of One’s Own about how women authors are able to truly write at the level of men authors when they are not so self-conscious that they are women (I’m butchering that, but it’s from the comparison of Austen and the Brontes, and I can mos def find it more specifically if you’d like). Except Bradley is not a woman, so I guess I feel like he was self-conscious that his protagonist is one. I mean, it seems like he was proud that she’s a girl, but it still drew me out of the story. Both the kid jokes and the “Hey, folks, I luvs bein’ a girl!” parts were like the accidental boom mic in the movie scene. It reminded me I was reading a book about a scrappy little British Nancy Drew kid, who was supposed to be both creepy and charming. Remember? Remember who the protagonist is?

But then there were parts where the author completely ignored that he wasn’t the character, and that might have been weirder to me. There’s one part when Flavia gets a cold, and everything about that stressed me out a little bit. It became a big deal that her nose was really plugged up, but also a big deal that she could both breathe through it and use her impeccable sense of smell. It’s petty of me to get distracted by that, but there you are. More funny, though, was this really crotchety moment where she points out that she got her cold from this person breathing on her. I mean, MAYBE an 11-year-old girl in the 1950’s would be a germaphobe, if she was also the genius chemist that our Flavia was, but I have to do some mental gymnastics to get there. I’m much more willing to believe that a man in his 60’s who retired to write mystery stories and lives in British Columbia would be able to tell me exactly who it was who gave him a cold. Again, it’s not really even a flaw in the story, it just kicks me out of the world Mr. Bradley’s creating.

I don’t know whether it made me more uncomfortable when he was pointing to who the character was or when he was ignoring it. It’s like this story I like to call “Undeniable Proof Exercise is Dangerous” about a treadmill accident I had one time. So, walking in a drab exercise room is boring, and I was pretty sleepy, and I decided to rest my eyes for a minute while I was on the treadmill. Then suddenly, when I opened them I was standing at the very end of the machine, and, yes, friends, I slipped right off. As I was falling, I suddenly realized what that chord attached to the big STOP button does. Anyway, I did a major face-plant, and got pretty scraped up. I had these flesh-colored band-aids all over my face for a couple of weeks. The scrapes felt really weird after I would put the numbing Neosporin on them, so I kept touching them. One of the helpful men I worked for came up to me one day and was like, “You know, I wouldn’t notice the bandages at all, if you would just stop touching them.” Thanks, Ben.

This book wasn’t a full treadmill faceplant for me, so the pointing at the bandages didn’t burn my eyes or anything. I’m just left feeling distracted from the action’s pretty face. Where are you point of the story, and why do you tease me like this?
Profile Image for Donna Davis.
1,759 reviews237 followers
July 26, 2013
"'Sirence!' I would hiss, fixing them with an awful stare.'Ancestahs lequire sirence!'" and then later, "'Honorabuh ancestahs lequire comprete dahkness'!"

Well! So there is someone out there who still thinks there is room in the world to caricature others based on their race and ethnicity. It's a little like finding a rabid rat in the flour canister.

I'm plenty pissed,actually,and I am very glad I didn't pay one red cent for this book. It was on a free shelf at a local book swap. Now I don't know what to do with it; I am not a book burner, yet hate to set it out for some hapless, unsuspecting soul to be slapped by. Likely I will bury it in the garage till it mildews and I can throw it away.

Flavia herself is a sufficiently compelling character--though I agree with critics who say she is overdrawn, a bit too cutesy and precocious in places. Still, I was willing to buy the character; I have known very bright children with a single, dysfunctional parent, and startlingly early in life, a role reversal takes place, and the child is parenting the parent. So I was willing to cast her in that mold in order to follow through to the end of this story, which appears to be well reviewed by many others. But there are moments in this book that are startlingly ugly, in that old-fashioned guise of just-a-joke.

As I said, I'm pissed.

Are you with me here? Because I have read five pages of reviews on this site, and none of those who limits this story to one or two stars even MENTIONS this. And I checked to make sure no worthwhile moral lesson is drawn from the skit in which an "Oriental" is endowed with almost every possible negative stereotype. Seeing no such lesson by page 191, I stomped to the computer to write this review and end this thing, at least for me.

What makes it all the more unconscionable is that the writer lives in British Columbia, Canada, a place with a disproportionately large number of Asian Canadians. So...just what the hell is THIS about?

And it continues. "Oriental mumbo-jumbo...I jabbered away...Oriental double-talk" that was "by turns exotic and sinister...cold and reptilian." Oh, and we have sausage casings to create really creepy fingernails, just to complete the inscrutable "Oriental" stereotype.

Just when you thought that the post-WWII 'yellow peril' garbage had finally been unmasked for its racist character and the spirit that lurked within this ignorant, racially based so-called humor was done and over, it turns up in an acclaimed, popular novel...

I guess I left my sense of humor in the writer's file drawer, along with his (metaphorical) pointed white sheet hood and swastikas. I exaggerate, but not by much. This is so offensive, and NOBODY ELSE appears to have even noticed.

The brown shirts may come for us yet.

I was glad that my daughter, Emiko, did not read this.

We are all members of the human race. I am disappointed that no one out there in the vast sea of Goodreads reviewers seems to have seen this effluvia and called it out. The fact that it is not central to the plot is irrelevant. Racist, xenophobic content should be hauled into the light of day and called by its name.

Update: recognition and thanks to those who have commented that this bothers them, too. It makes the world a little warmer to know I am not alone.

Profile Image for Misty.
796 reviews1,230 followers
March 2, 2010
Flavia de Luce is not your average eleven year old. She lives in a decaying mansion. She has a passion for chemistry, especially poisons. And when she finds a man dying in her cucumber patch, it doesn't occur to her to be worried or scared. Instead, Flavia senses something delicious may come of it: adventure.
Thus Flavia sets out to find out just who the man is, and how he came to be dying in her cucumber patch. But what starts off as a fun, mysterious way to spend the summer of 1950 turns into something much more when Flavia's father is arrested for the crime -- and she must prove his innocence before it's too late.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is slightly out of the norm for me in that I tend to avoid mysteries. I figure them out too soon, so they bore me and come off as cheesy. But I'd heard good things about this one, I was completely caught by the title and, yes, the cover (you know me), and precocious Flavia sounded interesting. So not only did I decide to give it a try, but I even went ahead and bought it. I do not regret this impetuous decision.

Flavia is delightful in her little-genius antics, and though her precociousness is occasionally somewhat irritating (as with all precociousness), she remains consistently entertaining. She's bold and bright and adventurous, and like many a genius, slightly off. She occasionally reminded me of Merricat Blackwood from We Have Always Lived in the Castle, whom, if you remember, I found captivating, even if she was a loon. Flavia isn't a loon, but her obsession with poisons does make her narration slightly suspect on occasion, which adds an interesting element.

The tone throughout the book is fun and intriguing. It's like some weird love-child of We Have Always Lived in the Castle + nostalgic/atmospheric/eccentric/British coming of age lit (think I Capture the Castle) + a cozy mystery. That's some parentage, and it makes for interesting offspring. The characters are fun and quirky, and this extends beyond Flavia, though she certainly takes the cake in this regard.

And even for me, who always figures things out and then gets disgusted -- even for me the mystery was fun. It's the sort that, even if you figure it out, there's still enough suspense, still enough tension, still enough interest to keep me going. You want to know how it's going to work out; more specifically, you want to know how Flavia's going to wriggle out of this one and come out on top, because she's that type of character; you just know she will.

I think, whether you like mysteries or you typically avoid them like me, you'll like Sweetness, and you'll intend to continue on with the series, The Buckshaw Chronicles -- you just have to know what Flavia's going to get herself into next!

Profile Image for Dan Lutts.
Author 3 books96 followers
February 16, 2019
For months my wife, Lisa, had been after me to read Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Really? An eleven-year-old British girl – who's an erudite, geeky, amateur chemist – solving murders? You've gotta be kidding. So I kept putting her off, even though she'd given me one book after another in the series after she'd read them it until I had the first four gathering dust on my To Read shelf.

Recently, we had to go on a trip to Boston and I had the bright idea of bringing along an audio book. Lisa suggested I choose the title. So I picked The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. To my surprise, the book was really good and the narrator did a wonderful job representing the different characters. We ended up getting halfway through the audio version and then I finished the rest by reading the physical book.

The book was delightful. It was obvious to me early on who the murder was. But the fun consisted of following young Flavia de Lace as she put the pieces of the puzzle together to solve the crime. Part of the fun also was the weird family dynamics among the sisters, father, and "servant."

Now I'm looking forward to reading the other Flavia books on my To Read shelf.
Profile Image for Arah-Lynda.
337 reviews525 followers
July 7, 2016

A surprisingly, delightfull who dunnit, introducing Flavia De Luce, who is one of the most captivating, young characters I have met since young Harry came out from his cupboard under the stairs. I'll definitely be reading the next chemical caper.

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