The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I finished this about a week and a half ago, but this is my first opportunity to write a review. I have steadily become very enamored with mysteries over the past few years, and I love when the sleuth is atypical. In this case, it's a ten-year-old girl with an obsession for chemistry, poisons in particular. This book stands out because of Flavia's very unique point of view.
I am a big nerd. I won't even lie. I love trivia and I love science facts. While my interest is more biological science and medicine, I admit to a love of chemistry. I connected to her in this way. This young woman has set up her own chemistry laboratory and regularly does experiments with compounds based on her readings from her deceased relative Tarquin de Luce, whose laboratory she appropriated in her family's home. Flavia has a sense of loneliness being the youngest daughter of three and so different from her older two sisters (and the fact that they are caught up in their own interests) and a father who is emotionally unavailable due to the loss of his wife and his war experiences. Like many children who grow up surrounded by neglectful adults, Flavia is rather precocious and mischievous. When a man is murdered in her garden, she takes it upon herself to solve the murder, especially when her father is accused of the crime. And she does an excellent job.
I liked Flavia's investigative process. She uses the tools in her arsenal and gets fairly hands on solving the crime. She displays a fearlessness that might put an older investigator to shame. Flavia is observant and has an inquisitive and analytical mind that allows her to process the information she receives as she discovers clues about the man who was murdered and how it connects to her family and others in her small community. And it makes that the world is a lot smaller than one would think.
At times, Flavia does come off as a bit bratty. But it's to be expected, considering that she is more or less ignored by her family. I like that this book shows how family work. Even good families have some degree of dysfunction, but in the end, the love of family members usually comes out. I appreciated her relationship with her father's retainer, Dogger, a troubled man suffering from PTSD from being a prisoner of war, but very kindhearted and loyal. Flavia's viewpoint touches on very adult issues in a hopeful, often humorous and essentially truthful way that I really appreciated.
I liked the backstory about her dad and how it relates to the mystery. It was sad and kind of disturbing at the same time. You can see that the person behind the murder truly has no moral limits to what he'll do, and when Flavia ends up in his path, I truly feared for her safety.
This book is as much a coming of age story as a mystery. I love them, seeing life through the eyes of a child or teenager, as they learn that life is a lot more complicated that they previously thought, and how this narrative shows the resilience and inner strength and intuitive intelligence of young people.
Flavia is a fun lead character. I'll definitely continue this series and see what mysteries of life and chemistry she'll encounter and solve next.
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