The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce Book 1)
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.”
Adorable. I know that Flavia, would cringe at my use of the word to describe her, but it’s the perfect one to use. She is adorable. The stereotype of the plucky Brit has always struck me as endearing and Flavia is the concept of plucky embodied. Everything about her made me want to smack her dad in the head and tell him what an amazing kid he has. Item the First, she’s a massive chemistry nerd. She uses archaic names of chemical compounds to calm her nerves (“Butter of Antimony…Flowers of Arsenic”). I’m not going to lie, if I’d been able to learn about chemistry the way Flavia does, I would have a whole different viewpoint of the topic. Item the Second, she uses “scissors” as a curse word. Any eleven year old in the world who uses the word scissors as a curse word gets an automatic amazing award. Item the Third, she named her articulated skeleton Yorrick. Do you see what I’m getting at now? I wasn’t this cool when I was eleven, but retroactively I totally wish I had been. If the Doctor were to ever show up in Flavia’s life, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.
As to the story, it’s surprisingly compelling. It falls along the lines of a typical Agatha Christie novel (and not just because of the time period in which it’s set). There’s a minimal amount of gore. The plot centers almost entirely upon intrigue and Flavia’s progress in wading through it, with a small subplot regarding a fantastic prank she played on her sister. (Seriously, if I had been half as clever as Flavia, I would have gotten away with so much more stuff.) Like a cozy mystery, the cast of characters that revolve around Flavia are both eclectic and marvelous. Throw in the fact that you’re in Britain in 1950 and the fact that the oddball histories of the characters are all marred by WWII, and you find there’s an odd sort of realism to the story. The tension and urgency of the story are wrought almost entirely by Flavia’s persistence. Her tenacity is downright charming and it certainly goes far to keeping the story moving along at a reasonable clip.
In the end, this story is a perfectly lovely tale of murder and the plucky eleven year old who sets out to solve it. I can’t tell you how thankful I am that this whole series is out so that I can pick up the next one tomorrow.
4.5 ink bottles.
Character Believability: 5 Buffys
Character Investibility: 5 Doctors
Pace/Urgency/Tension: 4.5 Dresdens
Worldbuilding: 4 Snyders
Language: 4.5 Feegles
Mystery: 4.5 Sherlocks