The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Flavia de Luce is an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. In the summer of 1950, a series of inexplicable events strikes her home, Buckshaw, a decaying English mansion. 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.
For Flavia, both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. To Flavia, the investigation is the stuff of science: full of possibilities, contradictions, and connections.
I have read far better murder mysteries than Sweetness. Its rambling, often disjointed writing lends to the childishness of its narrator, eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, but makes the story hard to follow.
The biggest problem I had with Sweetness was Flavia herself. She goes from singing and switching topics constantly to scientific lectures on chemistry. For her to be eleven and know and understand as much about such a complex subject as chemistry, she would have to be a genius, and the murder would’ve been solved much faster. I found it difficult to believe that she had been experimenting in her own chemical lab for years, creating poisons, and understands more about chemistry than my entire ninth grade class combined.
Flavia also makes quite a few references to 1950s pop culture and famous chemists, which the reader knows nothing about, and which weren’t needed in the story. It got to the point where I’d see song lyrics and just skip over them.
The end of Sweetness was actually rather good, though. As the final pieces of the puzzle clicked into place, the story got much more interesting and captivating. About the last quarter of the book is excellent, but the rest of it left something to be desired.
Once Upon a Time...
As a longtime lover of stories and a believer in the power and magic of books, I've spent my life seeking out the best reads. This blog is dedicated to reviewing the books I read - good, bad, or magnificent - to help other readers find their next favorite books.