A couple of years ago I was looking through the Overdrive web site (see http://pioneer.utah.gov if you happen to live in Utah like I do) for books to read and came across a book by Alan Bradley called The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. I decided to try it, and I’m glad I did, because the Flavia de Luce books are my favorite of all the books and series of books that I’ve read in the past few years.
Why? First of all, they’re mysteries, and I love reading mysteries. I usually don’t realize who the murderer is in the Flavia de Luce books, but when I find out who the murderer is it makes sense. Also, the mystery is important, but there are enough things going on in the book that it’s interesting without a new corpse turning up every chapter.
The Flavia de Luce books have great characters. Flavia is an 11-year old girl who is fascinated by chemistry and poisons. The way she talks about her lab, her experiments, and her heroes of chemistry is entertaining and endearing. Then there’s Dogger, her father’s friend and servant. Dogger is knowledgeable and has impeccable manners. A little bit like Jeeves, but mysterious and sad in addition to being polite and capable. There are other interesting characters, like Flavia’s sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, her father with his wistful sadness and obsession with postage stamps, and the inspector, to name a few, but the ones who really make the books work for me are Flavia and Dogger.
Nowadays I listen to fiction much more often than I read printed books (or ebooks). In the case of the Flavia de Luce, listening is a plus because Jayne Entwistle, the narrator, does a great job. She has a distinctive voice and does a great job of portraying the character of a quirky 11-year-old girl who happens to be a genius of chemistry and a brilliant detective. Flavia is the most important character of course, but there’s something about the way that Entwistle does Dogger’s voice that nails the character.
Even the titles are great. As far as I know, the titles of the four that I have read are all quotes, with Book 4’s title (I Am Half Sick of Shadows) being a quote from a Tennyson poem. I can’t say that I understand the allusions of the titles, but I like them all the same.
I’ve read four of the eight or nine books that have been written in the series so far (I’m rationing them rather than binge-reading them), and every one of them has had things that make me laugh. A lot. The funny parts are perfect counterpoints to the mystery and don’t spoil the sense of mystery at all. There are a number of sad things in every book as well.
The books are set in England fairly soon (five or ten years?) after the end of World War II. I like historical fiction and have read a number of murder mysteries that are historical fiction, ranging from the Cadfael mysteries by Ellis Peters, which are set in 12th century England, to the Amelia Peabody series by Elizabeth Peters, which are set in Egypt in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Flavia de Luce books are more recent, but Bradley does a great job of making the historical setting interesting without belaboring it.
Here’s a link to the first book in the series on amazon.com. What kind of link is it? That’s a bit tricky because I’ve been sworn to secrecy by the Amazon Associates program and sworn to non-secrecy by the FTC. Suffice it to say that it’s a compensated link, i.e., an advertisement:
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery