Tuesday, September 25, 2012

S is for Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (RIP #3)

“Apart from the soul, the brewing of tea is the only thing that sets us apart from the great apes.” 
 Alan Bradley, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

From the review at Amazon...
It's the beginning of a lazy summer in 1950 at the sleepy English village of Bishop's Lacey. Up at the great house of Buckshaw, aspiring chemist Flavia de Luce passes the time tinkering in the laboratory she's inherited from her deceased mother and an eccentric great uncle. When Flavia discovers a murdered stranger in the cucumber patch outside her bedroom window early one morning, she decides to leave aside her flasks and Bunsen burners to solve the crime herself, much to the chagrin of the local authorities.

This was a fun mystery to read. After reading two very bleak books about the horror of life in Germany during and after World War II, I was ready for something lighter and less serious. This book was actually set at about the same time period, and does reflect some of the hardships of post-War Britain, but it is not nearly so grim.

The book did not interest me when it first came out. With a precocious 11-year-old as the detective, I thought it would be too cutesy. Plus, mysteries featuring amateur detectives are not my favorite type. But there are always exceptions.  I ran into a review at Stainless Steel Droppings which convinced me I had to try the book. I found an inexpensive copy at the book sale a year ago, but only read it just recently.

This book is my pick for the 2012 Crime Fiction Alphabet for the letter S. Please visit the post at Mysteries in Paradise for other entries for this letter. 

This post is also my third for the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril VII event. That event celebrates reading of books of mystery and suspense.

The setting was appealing. The story takes place in post World War II Britain, with the attendant scarcity of goods and families trying to make do with what is available. Set in an English village, this is the typical cozy with quirky characters and a kindly policeman. The only atypical element is Flavia de Luce, our charming protagonist. She lives in a decrepit old mansion with her father, her two sisters, and an old friend of her father’s, Dogger, who is now the gardener. Dogger and her father were both soldiers during the war, and Dogger came back with severe psychological problems.

Although the main character is very young, this is very definitely not a children’s or young adult book. It does have the cozy elements of little violence, no graphic killings, no explicit sex, and (mostly) clean language. It even reminds me a bit of the Harry Potter books. No magic or sorcery, but the same feel. Those books were written as young adult novels, although read by many adults. But in this novel, Flavia is the only child that has much of a role at all, and she interacts mainly with adults. And although there is some introspection on her lot in life, that is not a primary focus at all.

It is a bit unrealistic to have a murder solved by an 11-year-old child, but the author pulled it off to my satisfaction. The person who is inevitably suspected of the crime is her father, and naturally she wants to prove that he did not do it. And, being very intelligent, resourceful, and apparently fearless, she endeavors to do just that. Her relationship with the police inspector is charming. He plays a supportive role without seeming to be shown up by Flavia. Inspector Hewitt and Dogger are my favorite characters, after Flavia, of course.

It remains to be seen if the series can maintain my interest. The reason for Flavia’s involvement in this crime investigation is clear. In future books, will it be realistic for her to play a part in crime solving? I am quite willing to suspend disbelief, if the author can keep me interested in the story. I have a copy of the next book in the series, but that is partly because it has a skeleton on the cover.

Some quotes from this book:
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.
If there is a thing I truly despise, it is being addressed as "dearie." When I write my magnum opus, A Treatise Upon All Poison, and come to "Cyanide," I am going to put under "Uses" the phrase "Particularly efficacious in the cure of those who call one "Dearie."
 There was no way out; not, at least, in this direction. I was like a hamster that had climbed to the top of the ladder in its cage and found there was nowhere to go but down. But surely hamsters knew in their hamster hearts that escape was futile; it was only we humans who were incapable of accepting our own helplessness.


Peggy Ann said...

This sounds very interesting Tracy. Thanks for the suggestion!I like the title.

TracyK said...

I forgot to mention in the post... the author is Canadian and this is book 2 for the Canadian reading challenge for me.

Anonymous said...

Tracy - Oh, I'm very glad you liked this one. I have to admit to a fondness for Flavia and I think Bradley does a terrific job of depicting the setting and environment. I hope you'll like the other books in the series.

Mary R. said...

I had great concerns about a novel narrated by an 11-year-old as I almost never like books narrated by children. Flavia is a delight however, and not very childish. I have read through the current book in the series (#4) and for the most part I think it maintains the good qualities of Sweetness.

srivalli said...

This sounds like a fun read. I will look for it.

Peter Reynard said...

I love the Bradley quote (and the review too). I could tell he was English from the quote and I'm glad a book with a young adult as a lead is not automatically a book just for kids and teens. Thanks for the review.

Also, I'm doing the RIP event as well but I have to get my act together and start posting about it. :)

sakura said...

I'm a huge fan of Flavia's and enjoyed all the books in the series. I hear there's a tv series in the works and am eagerly waiting for that too!