The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce Series #1)

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce Series #1)

3.9 426
by Alan Bradley

View All Available Formats & Editions

BONUS: This edition contains a The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie discussion guide and an excerpt from Alan Bradley's The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag.

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 inexplicableSee more details below


BONUS: This edition contains a The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie discussion guide and an excerpt from Alan Bradley's The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag.

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.”

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Fans of Louise Fitzhugh's iconic Harriet the Spy will welcome 11-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce, the heroine of Canadian journalist Bradley's rollicking debut. In an early 1950s English village, Flavia is preoccupied with retaliating against her lofty older sisters when a rude, redheaded stranger arrives to confront her eccentric father, a philatelic devotee. Equally adept at quoting 18th-century works, listening at keyholes and picking locks, Flavia learns that her father, Colonel de Luce, may be involved in the suicide of his long-ago schoolmaster and the theft of a priceless stamp. The sudden expiration of the stranger in a cucumber bed, wacky village characters with ties to the schoolmaster, and a sharp inspector with doubts about the colonel and his enterprising young detective daughter mean complications for Flavia and enormous fun for the reader. Tantalizing hints about a gardener with a shady past and the mysterious death of Flavia's adventurous mother promise further intrigues ahead. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Library Journal

An 11-year-old solving a dastardly murder in the English countryside in 1950 wouldn't seem to be everyone's cup of tea. But Flavia Sabina de Luce is no ordinary child: she's already an accomplished chemist, smart enough to escape being imprisoned by her older sisters and to exact revenge, forthright and fearless to the point of being foolhardy, and relentless in defending those she loves. When she spies on her father arguing heatedly with a strange man late at night and the next morning finds that man buried in the cucumber patch, she sets out, riding her bicycle named Gladys, to make sense of it all. And when her father-a philatelist and widower for a decade who still mourns his wife-is arrested, Flavia's efforts are intensified. She delves into the backstory, involving the death of her father's beloved teacher years earlier and the loss of a rare stamp, and puts together the pieces almost too late. The stiff-upper-lip de Luce family is somewhat stereotypically English, but precocious Flavia is unique. Winner of the Debut Dagger Award, this is a fresh, engaging first novel with appeal for cozy lovers and well beyond. [See Prepub Mystery, LJ1/09.]
—Michele Leber

School Library Journal

Adult/High School

When a stranger shows up dying in her family's cucumber patch in the middle of the night, 11-year-old Flavia de Luce expands her interests from chemistry and poisons to sleuthing and local history. The youngest of a reclusive widower's three daughters, Flavia is accustomed to independence and takes delight in puzzles and "what if's." She is well suited to uncovering the meaning of the dead snipe left at the kitchen door, the story behind the bright orange Victorian postage stamps, and-eventually-the identity of the murderer and his relationship to the dying man. Bradley sets the protagonist on a merry course that includes contaminating her oldest sister's lipstick with poison ivy, climbing the bell tower of the local boys' school, and sifting through old newspapers in the village library's outbuilding. Flavia is brave and true and hilarious, and the murder mystery is clever and satisfying. Set in 1950, the novel reads like a product of that time, when stories might include insouciance but relative innocence, pranks without swear words, and children who were not so overscheduled or frightened that they couldn't make their way quite nicely in chatting up the police or the battle-shocked family retainer. 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.-Francisca Goldsmith, Halifax Public Libraries, Nova Scotia

Kirkus Reviews
A precocious 11-year-old chemist confesses to murder. Buckshaw, the de Luce ancestral home, is in a bit of an uproar. First the cook finds a dead snipe with a stamp jammed on its beak on the doorstep. Then young Flavia awakens in the dead of night to hear her taciturn father, who normally saves his passion for his stamp collection, arguing with someone. Creeping out to the cucumber patch below her window to see more, she finds a man who breathes out the word "Vale," then expires. When Inspector Hewitt arrests her father, Flavia decides that her confession will save him. Hewitt doesn't believe her, of course, and she is forced to solve the crime between making trips to her attic sanctum, poisoning her sister Ophelia's lipstick and ignoring her sister Daphne, who always has her nose in a book. The one person she trusts is the family factotum, Dogger the gardener, a shell-shocked war comrade of her father the Colonel. Her snooping leads her to an ancient episode involving her father, the corpse and another former alumnus of Greyminster who has few qualms about killing her. Brilliant, irresistible and incorrigible, Flavia has a long future ahead of her. Bradley's mystery debut is a standout chock full of the intellectual asides so beloved by Jonathan Gash readers. It might even send budding sleuths to chemistry classes. Agent: Denise Bukowski/The Bukowski Agency
From the Publisher
"Sure in its story, pace and voice, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie deliciously mixes all the ingredients of great storytelling.The kind of novel you can pass on to any reader knowing their pleasure is assured."
— Andrew Pyper, author of The Killing Circle

"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?"
— Laurie R. King, New York Times bestselling author of The Game

“One of the hottest reads of 2009.”
The Times (U.K.)

“Alan Bradley brews a bubbly beaker of fun in his devilishly clever, wickedly amusing debut mystery, launching an eleven-year-old heroine with a passion for chemistry — and revenge! What a delightful, original book!”
— Carolyn Hart, Anthony and Agatha award-winning author of Death Walked In

“Alan Bradley’s marvelous book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, is a fantastic read, a winner. Flavia walks right off the page and follows me through my day. I can hardly wait for the next book. Bravo.”
— Louise Penny, acclaimed author of Still Life

Praise from the CWA Dagger Award judges:

“The most original of the bunch, I think, with a deliciously deceptive opening which really sets the tone of macabre fun. Flavia is a wonderful creation, along with the rest of her eccentric family, and makes for a highly engaging sleuth. Think the Mitfords, as imagined by Dorothy L Sayers. The plot, with its intriguing philatelic elements, is nicely ingenious and delivers a very good end, with a fun twist. Would make very good Sunday night telly, I think.”

“I adored this! Our heroine is refreshingly youthful, funny and sharp and the author creates such a strong sense of time and place. Flavia’s eccentric family are delightful and I love seeing them interact within their crazy home. There are also interesting depths to the plot — the stamp collecting, the chemistry experiments, and the acknowledgement of past events and how they have affected these characters. The author’s tone is very tongue-in-cheek and offers something quite different in this genre, and the story is cleverly structured and beautifully written. This doesn’t read like a first novel. Assuming the mystery itself will be as enticing and smoothly handled as the opening, I can see Flavia solving crimes into adulthood. Great title too!”

“Really adored the voice of the characters in this — especially Flavia, the spirited main protagonist — and the sense of place is beautifully described, particularly when telling the history of the house and its inhabitants. The family unit, comprising of the taciturn, introspective Colonel and his three daughters is well written, humorous and the sibling relationships very realistic. The author should be praised for creating a work that has nostalgic interest as well as a murder mystery, in places this almost reads like an Enid Blyton novel for adults!”

Read More

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Flavia de Luce Series , #1
Sold by:
Random House
Sales rank:
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt


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 they had been bright enough to think of tying my thumbs together, I should never have escaped. What utter morons they were.

With my hands free at last, I made short work of the gag.

Now for the door. But first, to be sure they were not lying in wait for me, I squatted and peered out through the keyhole at the attic. Thank heavens they had taken the key away with them. There was no one in sight: save for its perpetual tangle of shadows, junk and sad bric-a-brac, the long attic was empty. The coast was clear.

Reaching above my head at the back of the closet, I unscrewed one of the wire coat-hooks from its mounting board. By sticking its curved wing into the keyhole and levering the other end, I was able to form an L-shaped hook, which I poked into the depths of the ancient lock. A bit of judicious fishing and fiddling yielded a gratifying click. It was almost too easy. The door swung open and I was free.

I skipped down the broad stone staircase into the hall, pausing at the door of the dining room just long enough to toss my pigtails back over my shoulders and into their regulation position.

Father still insisted on dinner being served as the clock struck the hour and eaten at the massive oak refectory table, just as it had been when mother was alive.

‘Ophelia and Daphne not down yet, Flavia?’ he asked peevishly, looking up from the latest issue of The British Philatelist, which lay open beside his meat and potatoes.

‘I haven’t seen them in ages,’ I said.

It was true. I hadn’t seen them — not since they had gagged and blindfolded me, then lugged me hogtied up the attic stairs and locked me in the closet.

Father glared at me over his spectacles for the statutory four seconds before he went back to mumbling over his sticky treasures.

I shot him a broad smile: a smile wide enough to present him with a good view of the wire braces that caged my teeth. Although they gave me the look of a dirigible with the skin off, Father always liked being reminded that he was getting his money’s worth. But this time he was too preoccupied to notice.

I hoisted the lid off the Spode vegetable dish and, from the depths of its hand-painted butterflies and raspberries, spooned out a generous helping of peas. Using my knife as a ruler and my fork as a prod, I marshalled the peas so that they formed meticulous rows and columns across my plate: rank upon rank of little green spheres, spaced with a precision that would have delighted the heart of the most exacting Swiss watchmaker. Then, beginning at the bottom left, I speared the first pea with my fork and ate it.

It was all Ophelia’s fault. She was, after all, seventeen, and therefore expected to possess at least a modicum of the maturity she should come into as an adult. That she should gang up with Daphne, who was thirteen, simply wasn’t fair. Their combined ages totalled thirty years. Thirty years! — against my eleven. It was not only unsporting, it was downright rotten. And it simply screamed out for revenge.

Next morning I was busy among the flasks and flagons of my chemical laboratory on the top floor of the east wing when Ophelia barged in without so much as a la-di-dah.

‘Where’s my pearl necklace?’

I shrugged. ‘I’m not the keeper of your trinkets.’

‘I know you took it. The Mint Imperials that were in my lingerie drawer are gone too, and I’ve observed that missing mints in this household seem always to wind up in the same grubby little mouth.’

I adjusted the flame on a spirit lamp that was heating a beaker of red liquid. ‘If you’re insinuating that my personal hygiene is not up to the same high standard as yours you can go suck my galoshes.’


‘Well, you can. I’m sick and tired of being blamed for everything, Feely.’

But my righteous indignation was cut short as Ophelia peered short-sightedly into the ruby flask, which was just coming to the boil.

‘What’s that sticky mass in the bottom?’ Her long, manicured fingernail tapped at the glass.

‘It’s an experiment. Careful, Feely, it’s acid!’

Ophelia’s face went white. ‘Those are my pearls! They belonged to Mummy!’

Ophelia was the only one of Harriet’s daughters who referred to her as ‘Mummy’; the only one of us old enough to have any real memories of the flesh-and-blood woman who had carried us in her body, a fact that Ophelia never tired of reminding us. Harriet had been killed in a mountaineering accident when I was just a year old, and she was not often spoken of at Buckshaw.

Was I jealous of Ophelia’s memories? Did I resent them? I don’t believe I did; it ran far deeper than that. In rather an odd way, I despised Ophelia’s memories of our mother.

I looked up slowly from my work so that the round lenses of my spectacles would flash blank white semaphores of light at her. I knew that whenever I did this, Ophelia had the horrid impression that she was in the presence of some mad black-and-white German scientist in a film at the Gaumont.


‘Hag!’ I retorted. But not until Ophelia had spun round on her heel — quite neatly, I thought — and stormed out the door.

Retribution was not long in coming, but then with Ophelia, it never was. Ophelia was not, as I was, a long-range planner who believed in letting the soup of revenge simmer to perfection.

From the Hardcover edition.

Read More


Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >