Summary and book reviews of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2009, 384 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2010, 400 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Vy Armour

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About this Book

Book Summary

An enthralling mystery, a piercing depiction of class and society, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a masterfully told tale of deceptions—and a rich literary delight.

In his wickedly brilliant first novel, Debut Dagger Award winner Alan Bradley introduces one of the most singular and engaging heroines in recent fiction: eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. 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. 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.”

To Flavia the investigation is the stuff of science: full of possibilities, contradictions, and connections. Soon her father, a man raising his three daughters alone, is seized, accused of murder. And in a police cell, during a violent thunderstorm, Colonel de Luce tells his daughter an astounding story—of a schoolboy friendship turned ugly, of a priceless object that vanished in a bizarre and brazen act of thievery, of a Latin teacher who flung himself to his death from the school’s tower thirty years before. Now Flavia is armed with more than enough knowledge to tie two distant deaths together, to examine new suspects, and begin a search that will lead her all the way to the King of England himself. Of this much the girl is sure: her father is innocent of murder—but protecting her and her sisters from something even worse…

Chapter One

It was as black in the closet as old blood. they had shoved me in and locked the door. I breathed heavily through my nose, fighting desperately to remain calm. I tried counting to ten on every intake of breath, and to eight as I released each one slowly into the darkness. Luckily for me, they had pulled the gag so tightly into my open mouth that my nostrils were left unobstructed, and I was able to draw in one slow lungful after another of the stale, musty air.

I tried hooking my fingernails under the silk scarf that bound my hands behind me, but since I always bit them to the quick, there was nothing to catch. Jolly good luck then that I'd remembered to put my fingertips together, using them as ten firm little bases to press my palms apart as they had pulled the knots tight.

Now I rotated my wrists, squeezing them together until I felt a bit of slack, using my thumbs to work the silk down until the knots were between my palms—then between my fingers. If ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
Reader's Guide
  1. With her high level of knowledge, her erudition and her self-reliance, Flavia hardly seems your typical eleven-year-old girl. Or does she? Discuss Flavia and her personality, and how her character drives this novel. Can you think of other books that have used a similar protagonist?
  2. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie falls within the tradition of English country house mysteries, but with the devilishly intelligent Flavia racing around Bishop's Lacey on her bike instead of the expected older woman ferreting out the truth by chatting with her fellow villagers. Discuss how Bradley uses the traditions of the genre, and how he plays with them too.
  3. What is your favorite scene from ...
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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

Flavia de Luce, an eleven-year-old British sleuth who very recently entered the literary scene, already has a fan club! I'm joining the quickly-growing group of readers who have fallen in love with this winning heroine. After following Flavia through her first crime-solving adventure, with two more to come, I say, "Sign me up and bring them on!"   (Reviewed by Vy Armour).

Full Review Members Only (605 words).

Media Reviews

Entertainment Weekly

It's a rare pleasure to follow Flavia as she investigates her limited but boundless-feeling world. And it's nice to know she'll be back

IndieBound

Both funny and wickedly clever... Whether you are a mystery lover or not, you are going to fall hard for Flavia de Luce.

Publishers Weekly

Tantalizing hints about a gardener with a shady past and the mysterious death of Flavia's adventurous mother promise further intrigues ahead.

School Library Journal

Mystery fans, Anglophiles, and science buffs will delight in this book.

School Library Journal

Mystery fans, Anglophiles, and science buffs will delight in this book and may come away with a slightly altered view of what is possible for a headstrong girl to achieve

Library Journal

Winner of the Debut Dagger Award, this is a fresh, engaging first novel with appeal for cozy lovers and well beyond.

Kirkus Reviews

Starred Review. Bradley's mystery debut is a standout chock full of the intellectual asides so beloved by Jonathan Gash readers.

The Guardian (UK)

A strong plot and a wonderful supporting cast make this Canadian novelist's debut delightfully entertaining.

Author Blurb Laurie R. King, author of the Mary Russell series
A wickedly clever story, a dead true and original voice, and an English country house in the summer: Alexander McCall Smith meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Please, please, Mr. Bradley, tell me we'll be seeing Flavia again soon?

Author Blurb Christopher Fowler, author of the Peculiar Crimes Unit series
Flavia is an engagingly smart new sleuth with a flair for bringing out the child–and the detective–in all of us.

Reader Reviews

Enaj Mann

The Most Brilliant Book I've Ever Read
When my father first brought this book home from the library and told me about it, I was vaguely interested, but not at all excited. I thought, "Well, I guess the cover is pretty...and it has an okay title..." The problem was, I was ...   Read More

kayla

loved it!
I read this book for my book report and I loved it! i think that Alan Bradley did an awesome job writing this book! it's full of exciting and nail-biting chapters. its definitely a page turner!

Krista H

Sweet!
I adored this book. Flavia is such a wonderful character, I fell in love with her and her story instantly. It's not a deep literary book, but good fun with a great little heroine. I got sucked into this story instantly and couldn't wait to get ...   Read More

Susan Reiners

Wheee!
What fun!!

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Beyond the Book

The Story of Stamps
Penny BlackGreat Britain's "Penny Black" plays a significant role in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It was the first stamp, first issued on May 6, 1840. It cost one penny, was printed in black, and bore the profile of Queen Victoria. For the next 60 years (until her death in 1901), Queen Victoria's portrait was the only subject allowed on British stamps.

In the early days of the postal service stamps and envelopes did not exist. A letter was folded, sealed shut and, although it was possible to prepay, it was usually the person who received the letter who paid for the delivery costs. To avoid payment, many people refused to accept letters; others developed codes, placing secret marks on the outside of the letter ...

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