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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery    by Alan Bradley order for
Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
by Alan Bradley
Order:  USA  Can
Bantam, 2010 (2009)
Hardcover, Softcover, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Seventy-year-old first time novelist Alan Bradley proves he was well worth the wait with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, which introduces the captivating Flavia de Luce (a very young chemist with a penchant for poisons) to the mystery scene. In an interview at the back of the book, he explains his choice of lead, saying that 'Flavia embodies that kind of hotly burning flame of our young years ... when anything - absolutely anything! - is within our capabilities.'

Eleven-year-old year old Flavia lives with her elder sisters - narcissistic seventeen-year-old Ophelia and bookish thirteen-year-old Daphne - along with their rather distant philatelist father, his factotum Dogger (who survived a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, but not unscathed), and their cook in the dillapidated family mansion of Buckshaw. The girls' mother Harriet died in a mountaineering accident ten years before. We join the family in the summer of 1950, as Flavia experiments with Feely's lipstick in revenge for being hog-tied in a closet.

The mystery begins with the disturbing discovery of a dead jack snipe, a postage stamp impaled on its bill, at the kitchen door. Then a visitor shows up - he calls Father Jacko, they argue, and Flavia overhears her father say that they had killed their old schoolmaster. Awakened during the night, Flavia finds the man lying in the cucumber patch, breathing his last word - Vale. The only other clue is a missing wedge of custard pie. But Flavia is undaunted. She flits around on her trusty bicycle Gladys, investigating her father's past relationship to the dead man.

Soon Inspector Hewitt arrests Flavia's father for murder. Despite his attempts to keep her out of the case, she finds links to Norway, rare stamps with a fascinating history, conjuring and illusion, and past dire deeds - and almost comes to a bad end in the process. Anyone who dips into this debut novel will be thrilled to hear that Bradley's already written the second in the series, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag. I for one can't wait to spend more time with his ardent and intrepid young heroine.

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