June 2024
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Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Alan Bradley

From the back cover:

It is the summer of 1950 – and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia’s family calls home.  A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak.  Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath.  Then someone steals a slice of Mrs. Mullet’s unspeakable custard pie that had been cooling on the kitchen window … As the noose tightens, Flavia decides it is up to her – and her fully equipped Victorian chemical laboratory – to piece together the clues and solve a murder.

Mysteries are one of the only two or three genres that I really don’t regularly like.  I thought this was changing, given that I’ve read several mysteries this year and enjoyed pretty much all of them.  That’s why I immediately chose this book from Amazon Vine.  I wanted to test my theory and it sounded great.  While this book has an interesting plot and should have had an interesting main character, I found that it didn’t work for me.

First, Flavia is not as appealing as she should be given the many blurbs about how awesome she is.  In a sense, she is awesome, given her intelligence and ingenuity, but she doesn’t feel like an eleven-year-old girl.  There isn’t much that is girlish about her and I feel that she could have been a boy just as easily.  Her deep passion for chemistry and certainty about her life’s direction do remind me of that weird stage of youth; it doesn’t really occur to her that others think she is strange, she just goes her own way and pursues her own interests.  So as a character, she was a bit hit-and-miss with me.

I read an ARC, and I hope this is corrected in the proper version, but the name of the murdered person changed halfway through the book.  Talk about confusing!  I also thought that there was too much exposition.  Flavia explained how she came to her various conclusions and it all seemed fairly obvious.

I did like the old-fashioned British feel of the book; even if we weren’t told that this takes place in 1950, it would be easy to guess somewhere around the proper time.  I liked all the little bits of information about chemistry and postage stamps and boys’ schools.  And I was interested in the conclusion to the mystery once I’d figured out who the villain was and who the victim was.  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie just wasn’t a major success  for me.  It succeeded in small ways, but not enough for me to be interested in continuing the series.


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