Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

110. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
Publication: Delacorte Press (April 28, 2009), Hardcover, 384pp / ISBN 0385342306
Genre: Mystery
Read: April 29-30, 2010
Source: Library
Summary from Amazon:

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.”


I’ve heard really good things about the Flavia de Luce series, and so when I spotted this on the shelves at work I decided to grab it and try it out for myself. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but I really did enjoy it and definitely want to read the next book!

Flavia as a character really surprised me. Her whole family is weird, but Flavia is a particular shade of weird that reminds me of Willard— like she’s just two degrees and an insult away from becoming a mass murderer. It’s an interesting experience, reading about a character like that; she’s almost an anti-hero except that she obviously does want to be a hero, even if she has to step on people on her way to becoming one.

(Everyone else seems to be reading her as a sassy, independent character who’s charming and likable and all that. So then why do I think she’s a sociopath? Because of how she gets revenge against her sister, mainly; it’s so calculated and potentially deadly– what would have happened if she ingested too much of the poison ivy by licking her lips?– it’s scary.)

I like that she’s super intelligent and doesn’t take nonsense from anyone, and that she can handle dangerous situations pretty easily and she’s basically a female Sherlock Holmes– I like that. But I’m just waiting for her to snap one day and do away with someone that’s annoying her.

Anyway, the mystery itself was really fun, in the Sherlock Holmes sort of way with layers of details and interesting historical things. None of the supporting characters were as complex as Flavia was, however, and that made the storyline outside of Flavia-solving-the-mystery a little boring. I may not have particularly like Flavia, but I liked reading about her solving the mystery, and even though she creeps me out I’m going to get the next book to read as soon as I get a chance.


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12 thoughts on “Review: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley”

  1. I have this on my shelves and everytime I read a review of it I want to pick it up and read it right now. However, I think I will be saving it for summer..

  2. Heh, so true, she does have a little bit of sociopath to her doesn’t she. Having sisters myself though… I can see where she is coming from 😉

  3. I was bothered by the poison ivy thing too – but my mother, who had an older sister who bullied her, said she found it utterly satisfactory and would have done the same thing to her sister if she’d known how at age eleven. My sisters and I get along far better than that.

    1. Yeah, I get along decently enough with my brother and can’t imagine what it’d be like to want to do that to your siblings because they hate you that much. D:

  4. Uh-oh! Now I have to question myself as a sister and a mother … I was one who thought the poison ivy lip balm was impish, but didn’t consider the potential danger (my sister and I are thisclose!)

    I really enjoyed the audio edition of this book, and will read the print edition of THE WEED THAT STRINGS THE HANGMAN’S BAG for comparison. Thanks for linking to my review.

  5. She is a little bit sociopathic, but she’s at least a charming sociopath. 🙂 I think that while the poison-ivy thing was dangerous, an 11-year-old (however much of a genius) wouldn’t necessarily consider all of the possible consequences of their actions, particularly if they were in a fit of revengeful pique. I guess I sort of read it as the nerdy extension of the type of thought that leads to things like “Let’s build a bike jump! No, let’s build a bike jump into the pool! No, let’s build a bike jump off the roof!”

  6. I know how it feels to be the only one who views a character a certain way. I haven’t experienced it while reading, but I have while watching TV. Everyone I know thinks that Adrian Monk is hilarious, but I cringe with discomfort and pity so much that I can’t watch the show. More recently, Charmaine on “United States of Tara” is supposed to be nothing more than clueless and self-absorbed, but I can’t help looking at her and think that she is constantly lying. I was left at the end of the season feeling that there was something missing.

  7. I really enjoyed this book san the characters except for one thing. Without the poison ivy incident, I’d view Flavia’s obsession with poisoning others as mere fantasy. I found the inclusion on the poison ivy episode disturbing.

    I am biased by having suffered from severe poison ivy, which not only causes inflamed running sores but makes me feel sick all over and leaves long-lasting scars. It is not a minor itch, it is really painful. Here’s what happens if you eat it!

    Deliberately infecting someone is not cute, it is cruel. It reminds me of some kids who sprinkled roundworm eggs on their friends’ food (thinking it was hilarious to give them intestinal worms) and nearly killed them when all the parasites (in the normal path they follow through the body) simultaneously emerged though the lung lining.

    I think “sociopath” sums it up well- a person with no empathy. For me, this was a real flaw in the otherwise light tone of the book. Our society is already too happy with revenge. Flavia needs counseling.

    Flavia could not have got poison ivy from contact with sores on another person. Urishiol forms molecular bonds with molecules in the skin within 15 minutes of contact. The sores don’t form for one to several days and the fluid leaking from them does not cause new sores. Bad science, Flavia!

  8. The bird on the cover is not a jacksnipe! Not the author’s fault but, seriously, how much effort would it have taken to check on this? If anything, the illustration may be a jackDAW, a bird of a different color! A crow rather than a shorebird!

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