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A Red Herring without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Novel

by Alan Bradley

Delacorte Press, 2011.

399 pages, hardcover.

Award-winning author Alan Bradley returns with another beguiling novel starring the insidiously clever and unflappable eleven-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce. The precocious chemist with a passion for poisons uncovers a fresh slew of misdeeds in the hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey—mysteries involving a missing tot, a fortune-teller, and a corpse in Flavia’s own backyard. […] As the red herrings pile up, Flavia must sort through clues fishy and foul to untangle dark deeds and dangerous secrets. ~publisher’s comments.

**********

“Ah, the ubiquitous Flavia de Luce.” ~Inspector Hewitt (120)

How much more can I go on about Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce Novels? Ask my husband and daughter. A Red Herring without Mustard is the third book in this charming series and it does not disappoint. The first novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, sets the tone and Bradley has yet to falter. I suppose you could read the novels out of order, but I don’t think you should. The primary reason is that while Flavia does undergo some change each novel, her progression is better marked over the three. Everyone’s development in character and relationship find greater depth and enjoyment when in the series from the beginning.

I could repeat everything I’ve said in the earlier reviews of the first to Flavia de Luce books. I will just link them (and Carl V.’s excellent review) later. What follows are my thoughts after reading A Red Herring without Mustard.

Bradley is not writing serial mysteries ala Nancy Drew where the characters life is secondary. He is writing about Flavia de Luce, protagonist and first person narrator. The novels are her life wherein she happens upon murder mysteries. The murder mystery of the sort Agatha Christie would influence complements the mysteries that one encounters being an eleven-year-old girl with the interests, family, and circumstances with which Flavia happens to find herself. A character-driven story with Flavia is not dull, but a little murder mystery is interesting, and what is a red herring without mustard?

Bradley has a way of working the odd title into the story. He offers the reader the quote before they flip the page for chapter one. Then Flavia will encounter it along the way (10) and contemplate it (163-4). Absences are felt in the previous novels. Flavia and family feel the loss of Harriet de Luce (the mother) though time has passed. That the de Luce family does not have the money to keep things running at Buckshaw (the estate) was introduced. In A Red Herring the absences are more acute, especially the problems of not having money and not having Harriet—as a wife and mother. The idea that one needs the other, as a red herring requires mustard, is pervasive. An estate without its silver, and family without its infant, a family without its mother, a world without magic, or even without logic…a mystery without it’s twists and turns…

I mentioned Agatha Christie and with Red Herring in the title it is hard to separate the expectation that at least one Red Herring is present in the novel.  One could go so far as to wonder if the novel is a red herring…but not today. I loathe to spoil the experience of the read for you…

But. If you have read it (or have a mind to): Porcelain Lee.  Bradley creates wonderfully strange characters, many who complicate the trail and side-track the protagonist in often frustrating and tension-building ways; however, none, I must note, are superfluous. Porcelain Lee is a character who complicates A Red Herring without Mustard. She also provides the Henry James flavor. Forget that fishy smell, I kept scenting Turn of the Screw. I closed the book and thought, “Was Porcelain real?”

Porcelain has gypsy roots. She shows up as if out of nowhere, is irrational, has strange gifts, and is often described in spectral terms—and then there is the “Harriet’s gown to dinner” scene (350+).

What Porcelain does that is lovely is pull Harriet and her absence from Flavia’s sole possession as the narrator. We can know how Flavia is affected by the loss of her mother, but we are held in her perceptions of how others might be affected, which is somewhat unreliable (recall that Flavia’s interactions with her family members are mysteries in themselves). Porcelain provides the comparative of how the household would actually look and act if Harriet were still there. [Porcelain, at best, is a forgery, of course.] The correlative further hollows out the void. Porcelain projects the abstract and puts it in more tangible form. And as seems often, she is a connection between the unseen and the seen (as is her grandmother)—and in her own logical way (via the magic of chemistry) Flavia does the same. Then there are the remarks (again) by Flavia about her own invisibility.

Porcelain is also strange in her agelessness. I could hardly remember her age. I could only remember that she was older than Flavia. It was the shifting between sisterly and maternal that disoriented me.  Flavia needs both, sister and mother. The previous books remark upon the ‘absence’ of her father (which in this novel we will see a shift). This novel remarks upon the loss of sisterhood and Flavia grieves it even as she is trying to negotiate this strange and abusive relationship she has with her two older sisters. (Paralleled with Colin and Brookie, what destructive end am I to consider?) What antics may have been startling and somewhat darkly amusing previously take on a more tremulous and haunting aspect in A Red Herring. Vengeance on another with whom they perceive as having robbed them in the murder mystery parallels the Ophelia taking out her rage out on Flavia. The darkness that marks the sisters’ interactions are seen to not solely function as a means of dispensing affection. And Flavia doesn’t want to play anymore (or at least consider changing the game). “How could revenge hurt so keenly? It didn’t make any sense. It simply didn’t. Revenge was supposed to be sweet—as so was victory!” (237).

I don’t know where Bradley is taking the de Luce family. I am terribly intrigued and afraid. A Red Herring has the reader consider possible trajectories and dangerous/tragic outcomes.

Wasn’t father going to remark upon my cuts and abrasions?

Apparently not.

And it was at that moment, I think, it began to dawn upon me—truly dawn upon me—that there were things that were never mentioned in polite company no matter what; that blue blood was heavier than red; that manners and appearances and the stiff upper lip were all of them more important, even, than life itself. (149)

Flavia is growing up quickly (but not too quick). She is really coming into her own, while still maintaining the very attributes that drew the reader in the first place. I suppose we should expect this kind of progression of character, and not just with Flavia. By book three, more and more characters are being lifted off the page and given greater form. The sisters, notably, are rescued from potential cliché and allowed a reader’s speculation in A Red Herring.

Another thing Bradley continues to do well is illustrate and proceed with the effects that these murders and Flavia’s subsequent detecting have on Flavia –and her family. Bradley looks at the consequences in layers: physical and emotional, individually and collectively. How might the family become involved? How might they help or inhibit? The inclusion of the family tightens the weave between the unsolved murders and unresolved issues at home. The murders jumpstart all sorts of conflicts in the de Luce family—it’s lovely.

*****

“There had been a time when Buckshaw rang with laughter, or so I’d been told, but quite frankly, I could not even imagine it. The house seemed to hold itself in stiff disapproval, reflecting only the sound of all of us who lived within its walls.” (349)

There is mention since the beginning that Flavia de Luce could be read with the estate in mind as character and criticism. I have hardly touched on this before. The third, thus far, feels these remarks more keenly. The house is personified to greater degree, the historical presence of the place more influential to the murder mystery, and it is certainly more atmospheric. What it hides behind its symbol is a question on A Red Herring’s mind. The keeping up of appearances is a preoccupation, which in turn signals expectations. The house also has me thinking of its true owner, Harriet (who left no will, (47)). She was the house and, in a sense, still is. What is a house without its owner in residence?

*******

I grabbed my faithful old BSA Keep-fit from the greenhouse. The bicycle had one belonged to Harriet, who had called her l’Hirondelle, “the Swallow”: a word that reminded me so much of being force-fed cod-liver oil with a gag-inducing spoon that I had renamed her “Gladys.” Who for goodness’ sake, wants to ride a bicycle with a name that sounds like a sickroom nurse?

And Gladys was much more down-to-earth than l’Hirondelle: an adventurous female with Dunlop tires, three speeds, and a forgiving disposition. She never complained and she never tired, and neither, when I was in her company, did I. (102)

Gladys, the bicycle, is also further developed as a character. The read can be depressing if you consider that Flavia’s only friend is an inanimate object. It can be exciting if you consider the extent of Flavia’s imagination. It can be charming, because the interactions between bike and girl are wonderfully written, very sweet and humorous.

******

A Red Herring without Mustard is a pleasant distraction that has me wondering where Alan Bradley is headed with his brilliantly conceived Flavia de Luce. Looks like we’ll have to wait nearly a year….

According to Alan Bradley’s website, Book Four has recently been titled I Am Half-Sick of Shadows and is “tentatively slated” January 2012.

“I Am Half-Sick of Shadows” is, of course, from Tennyson’s “The Lady of Shalott”. Is there a clue there? Well maybe … there are definitely shadows in the book. This title supercedes the previously-announced “Death In Camera”. Publication (according to Books On Tape) is tentatively slated for January 31st, 2012.”

*****

Carl V. at “Stainless Steel Droppings” reviews A Red Herring without Mustard.

My earlier ramblings on the first two Flavia de Luce novels: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag. In these I remark upon Bradley’s excellent and consistent way with Story.

"review" · fiction · Lit · mystery · recommend · series · Uncategorized

the thread that holds

cover hangmanThe Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag: A Flavia de Luce Mystery (book 2)

by Alan Bradley

Delacorte Press, 2010.

364 pages (hardback).

 

I am not sure you will read a better review of Alan Bradley’s The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag than Carl V.’s review over at Stainless Steel Droppings. As I don’t believe in flattery, you may know I am serious and follow the link. Then go and check this book out from the Library, or just purchase it along with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and send me copies as well.

What follows? Thinking aloud:

I was finished reading The Weed that Strings and was trying to come up with something potentially negative to say. I don’t try to search out weaknesses or have something unkind to say; plenty of times they are readily apparent. No, I was thinking about how much I’ve been raving of late. My pessimism surfaces when I find that I’ve read too many great works in a row, like three or four. What are the odds? my darkly tuned mind whispers.

I am trying to be objective about a book that I found to be an exceptionally well done Second Book in a Mystery Series. Bradley maintains all the charm of the First Book, carries off the voice of Flavia (the narrator/protagonist) without fail.

I suppose I could say that those who have not a speck of dark humor would care for Flavia. Or even those that doubt the devious capabilities of a nearly eleven-year-old girl…

Or it may be that The Weed that Strings tends to meander a bit. Not intentionally; things naturally get in the way—like sleep, for instance; or a delicious memory; or contemplation of the organic chemical properties of something or other; or happens into conversation with someone crossing her path.

Yet, does Bradley really meander all that much? While Bradley is writing a mystery novel, the mystery is secondary, an incidental vehicle in which to engage the reader further into the deviously clever machinations of Flavia’s mind. Perhaps better stated: Flavia is a mystery, and the murders she encounters are the secondary mystery, which is incidental.

However enthrallingly bizarre the opening event is that Bradley writes, both novels start with Flavia’s daily life. They both end with a “mundane” Flavia moment as well. Flavia happens to come upon a mystery in the in-between. Both mysteries are puzzling, but one might frustrate the other for the Reader—that is, if they are not taken in by Flavia. If you don’t find Flavia compelling the quite brilliant twists, the quirky characters, and amusing cultural references will not hold the reader. I do not contribute this observance to the mere fact that Flavia is our first person narrator. I contribute it to the potentially meandering nature of the novel.

Flavia is ever here and there on her bicycle Gladys. She is ever in a conversation, whether in person or eavesdropped. She is ever creeping about or contemplating something or other that may or may not pertain to the murder-mystery at hand. While you feel sure that somewhere in all of it, you will say, ‘of course’ when the mystery is solved at the end. Just the same, I wonder if perhaps some of the rest was potentially extraneous; even for the sake of characterization. And whether it matters?

Can an interaction be irrelevant if the story is about Flavia, who incidentally becomes a murder investigator? Is it, if it wildly entertaining?

Sean references Hitchhiker’s Guide the Galaxy by Douglas Adams,“It’s all digressions.” I’m wondering about Jesse Ball’s The Way the Through Doors.

Must everything be salient?

I admire a tightly woven story. I just finished Room by Emma Donoghue and the cleverness in which every object and interaction is used and reused toward the progression of the story, which is both character and plot driven. I suppose a notable and personal observation regarding the two reading experiences is that I would like to sit in a pub with Bradley and let him regale me with Flavia stories all the day long, probable digressions and all.

After a few notes on my reading The Weed that Strings, I was reading Polishing Mudballs, a blog I follow daily, and Deanna was reviewing Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. In the review, she writes:

There is criticism that the book is too lengthy with far too many irrelevant details. In some ways, I agree, and did feel that maybe the book was a tad bit long, but mostly I disagree. I greatly appreciated reading about the various details of culture and countries. I truly believe that those details added the overall feeling, and understanding of the story.

Then there is Logan’s blog Rememorandum where he is exploring the question of “What Makes a Story?” and employs the word extraneous along the way.

Strange but wonderful coincidences.

I found The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag as wonderfully entertaining as The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, for all the same reasons as the “review” I wrote on it, and all the reasons Carl V. notes in his review.

**************

A few asides with regards to The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag:

—How much consciously enters the creation of the 2nd book after the first?

The notable discussion on page 112 about being eleven (or even almost). A response to criticism regarding Flavia’s reliability—or Bradley’s capability in portraying a believable character?

“You are unreliable, Flavia,” [Father] said. “Utterly unreliable.”

Of course I was! It was one of the things I loved most about myself.

Eleven-year-olds are supposed to be unreliable. We’re past the age of being poppets: the age where people bend over a pokes us in the tum with their fingers and make idiotic noises that sound like “boof-boof”—just the though of which is enough to make me bring up my Bovril*. And yet we’re still not at the age where anyone ever mistakes us for a grown-up. the fact is, we’re invisible—except when we choose not to be.

Neither would an 11-year-old be underestimated. Much of the theme and to the good use of the Mystery, the underestimation of abilities and capabilities is at work in The Weed that Strings. [a female character] “had the highest IQ he’d ever seen in ‘the fairer sex,’ as he put it” 302. Equally treated are the estimations of the young, the non-Adonis, and the lunatic.

There is a thread in the novel, about the perils of children seeing things they shouldn’t: Robin, Jack and the Beanstock, and Flavia de Luce. The Weed that Strings is quite creepy and suspenseful.

I appreciate that Flavia is not negotiating the world of murder-mystery unscathed, despite her predilection for the macabre. Also, the continual resistance of the Constabulary to make an 11-year-old an honorary member (as so many child-detective, –spy, novels are want to do).

—I am noticing the continual references to the relationships between females.

It is a simple fact of nature that while most men can walk right pasta a weeping woman as if their eyes are blinkered and their ears stopped up with sand, no female can ever hear the sound of another in distress without rushing instantly to her aid. (8)

This sort of statement is found in both, more than once.

Is it the motherless child? A reminder that Flavia is a girl so as to not mistake more masculine gender attributes? In keeping with 1950s ideology?

The female mind doesn’t work that way.

Seen from the air, the male mind must look rather like the canals of Europe, with ideas being towed along well-worn towpaths by heavy-footed dray horses. there is never any doubt that they will, despite wind and weather, reach their destinations by following a simple series of connected lines.

But the female mind, even in my limited experience, seems more of a vast and teeming swamp, but a swamp that knows in an instant whenever a stranger—even miles away—has so much as dipped a single toe into her waters. People who talk about this phenomenon, most of whom know nothing whatsoever about it, call it “woman’s intuition.”

Although I had arrived at much the same conclusion as Dogger, it had been by a very different route. (308-9)

Haven’t figured out where I am putting above section in my mind. Explaining the differentiations in why the story takes the form it does? Does a book need to explain itself?

—In this second book, there is a map of Bishop’s Lacy and Environs in the front. Helpful, although Bradley is quite good with directions.

—Lastly, the opening lines: “I was lying dead in the churchyard. An hour had crept by since the mourners had said their sad farewells.” Marvelous.  I am very much looking forward to Bradley’s next installment in the Flavia de Luce Mysteries, A Red Herring without Mustard (2011).

*Bovril, noun [mass noun] trademark, a concentrated essence of beef diluted with hot water to make a drink. (Oxford English Dictionary)

Stainless Steel Droppings review, the link again.
"review" · fiction · Lit · mystery · recommend · series · Uncategorized · wondermous

the sweetness at the top of the pile…

cover pieThe Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Delacorte Press (Random House), 2009.

373 pages

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 1950and 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.”

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.  ~back cover.

Just finished this one this morning and was almost late getting the daughter to school. I inhaled the last five chapters. Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is delectable.

The book has been renewed at least once, having picked it up near Halloween, tantalized by the glowing reviews, the “you need to own this” recommendations. I do need to own The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. And I regret having kept pushing it to the bottom of the pile.

The protagonist and first person narrator, Flavia de Luce is incredible. She is wild and independent and absolutely brilliant-minded, if not darkly humored. And the wit with which she’s been written—delightful.

As the book cover says, the eleven year old* Flavia is “an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison.”  She is also the tormenting/tormented youngest sister of two elders, Ophelia (the vain) and Daphne (the bookish). She happens across the role of Detective when she trips over a dead body in the cucumber patch.  Her curious mind is provoked.

Flavia is a natural observer and logician, and perhaps more importantly, a fiercely independent and proactive thinker. To say Flavia is a delightful child would require manufactured sweetness.

Plenty would compare the young girl detective to Nancy Drew or Harriet the Spy, only infinitely naughtier? The closest I could recall was Nancy Springer’s Enola Holmes, who is also set in England, is a good detective, has issues with her mother, and is well-read; she doesn’t, however, have Flavia’s vindictive nature which creates plenty of amusing conflict in the story.

Damn the man! And damn old Ruggles too! I’d have to remember when I got home to send them a  jug of pink lemonade, just to show that there were no hard feelings. It was too late in the season for anemones, so anemonin was out of the question. Deadly nightshade, on the other hand, although uncommon, could be found if you knew exactly where to look. (241)

On the whole, Flavia is an original and in the end you would be hard-put to use any other girl detective as a comparative model—nor would Flavia care for you to.

The little man’s pale blue eyes bulged visibly in their sockets.

“Why, it’s only a girl!” he said.

I could have slapped his face. (239)

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie could reminisce in other ways. If you like the way James Joyce personifies houses or setting; if you appreciate E.M. Forester’s Estate Novels, his using a House as symbol/character facet, his interrogation of gender roles and Manners. I held a brief consideration of the film Gosford Park, and decided this was impart due to the idea that if they made this novel into a film Clive Owen should play Flavia’s father, and maybe Anna Sophia Robb as Flavia—but she must be too old for it now… Thoughts that threaded after I put down the book. While in the read I am turning pages, chuckling over Flavia’s thoughts and antics.

Flavia isn’t the only great character. All are drawn well. I really have no complaint with the crafting of the story. Actually, I am quite envious of his settings. His descriptors, everything, is colored by Flavia’s perspective/personality. Bradley does not step out of his narrative choice once.

There was a sudden noise behind me and I spun round. In the center of the roof a corpse hung, dangling from a gibbet. I had to fight to keep from crying out.

Like the bound body of a highwayman I had seen in the pages of the Newgate Calendar, the thing was twisting and turning in the sudden breeze. Then, without warning, its belly seemed to explode, and its guts flew up into the air in a twisted and sickening rope of scarlet, white, and blue.

With a loud crack! the entrails unfurled themselves, and suddenly, high above my head, at the top of the pole, the Union Jack was flapping in the wind.

As I recovered from my fright, I saw that the flag was rigged so that it could be raised and lowered from below, perhaps from the porter’s lodge, by an ingenious series of cables and pulleys that terminated in the weatherproof canvas casing. It was this I had mistaken for corpse and gibbet.

I grinned stupidly at my foolishness and edged cautiously closer to the mechanism for a better look. But aside from the mechanical ingenuity of the device, there was little else of interest about it. (234-5).

I’d read a few excerpts to Sean and he voiced the concern as to whether the eleven year old protagonist was convincing. I, too, had worried that Flavia wouldn’t actually be an eleven-year-old girl, but a morbid adult male author in a failed disguise; or at the very least, she would be too gifted to be convincing. However, there are the continually resurfacing issues of having lost her mother before living memory; the difficulties with a withdrawn father; the desire for an affectionate caretaker to make her feel safe/loved…then there is the loveliness of her innocence, her bafflement with romantic relationships,

Ned! The very thought of him had the same effect upon Ophelia as an injection of novocaine. She had taken it into her head that he was the spitting image of Dirk Bogarde, but the only similarity I could see was that both had arms and legs and stacks of brilliantined hair.

And then there is this lovely passage.

“I remembered a piece of sisterly advice, which Feely once gave Daffy and me:

“If ever you are accosted by a man,” she’d said, “kick him in the Casanovas and run like blue blazes!”

Although it had sounded at the time like a useful bit of intelligence, the only problem was that I didn’t know where the Casanovas were located. (305)

She doesn’t get all the literary allusions.

And I found this from an interview with Alan Bradley done by Shots Magazine

“Well, alright,” you might ask, “but what’s a 69 year old man doing writing about an 11 year old girl in 1950’s England?” And it’s a fair question.

The Roman author Seneca once said something like this: “Hang on to your youthful enthusiasms – you’ll be able to use them better when you’re older.’ So to put it briefly, I’m taking his advice. Seneca’s remark affected me so deeply when I first read it in my school days, that I remember writing it down in one of my notebooks, thinking, “Some day, I’m going to need this.”

To me, Flavia embodies that kind of hotly burning flame of our young years: that time of our lives when we’re just starting out: when anything – absolutely anything! – is within our capabilities.

It seemed to me that it would be interesting to have a murder as seen through the eyes of an eleven year old girl. It was something that hadn’t been done much before, and it was exciting to think of the possibilities. A girl of that age, in the 1950’s, would have been virtually invisible. Like Sherlock Holmes’s Baker Street Irregulars, she could go anywhere, see anything, overhear anything, without being noticed – she would be The Invisible Girl.

I was also intrigued by the possibilities of dealing with an unreliable narrator; one whose motives were not always on the up-and-up.

I was never an 11 year old girl, but I was the next best thing: an 11 year old boy, and I had the added advantage of having been close to that that age in the year the first book is set.

When Flavia’s motives were not on the up and up, she made them fairly transparent to the Reader. Strangely for me, though she would be distrusted by the Authorities, she was not unreliable to me, the Reader.  Flavia houses a balance of an incredible imagination and the analytical (if not cynical). It is, of course, helpful to trust the observations of the narrator of a detective in a mystery novel; it would otherwise be worth doubting the detective in a horror fiction. The moment with the corpse/flag was the first moment I caught myself questioning why I was so compelled to believe Flavia—such an easy suspension of disbelief?—or my observations of a now ten-year-old daughter? I think it is the balance of logic and whimsy that Bradley writes into Flavia (indeed celebrates) that makes her trustworthy. She is well-equipped and capable, through the charming and elucidating tales seamlessly woven into the novel.

******

“He was the spitting image of Dirk Bogarde.” The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is chock full of Cultural and Historical references, popular or no (true or no—I haven’t verified). This is a novel for those who enjoy British History and its Pop Culture of the 1950s and earlier; alongside is a helping of American references as well. Bradley doesn’t make the inclusions dry, but a  sweetened additive.  The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie could easily be described as accessible literature; you can follow the allusions or no, but the story is entertaining. One can take the “enthralling mystery” and disregard the “piercing depiction of class and society”—but I wouldn’t, and Bradley doesn’t make a critical read that necessitates Cliff Notes.

Bradley takes an old genre and a slightly older time and infiltrates them with a clever, dangerous character who like her fascination with poisons, is one—or perhaps she is an antidote.

I made the Girl Guide three-eared bunny salute with my fingers. I did not tell him that I was technically no longer a member of that organization, and hadn’t been since I was chucked out for manufacturing ferric hydroxide to earn my Domestic Service badge. no one had seemed to care that it was the antidote for arsenic poisoning. (307)

Even if you are not a fan of the Mystery, the Detective, 1920-50s England, or Classist and/or Gender conversations, but you are a lover of a beautifully rendered descriptions, lovely (if not at many times sinister) characters, a well-met, compelling story with a fantastic flavoring of dry wit, and/or dark humor, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is for you.  And if none of the above applies: add this to your To Be Read pile anyway.

Or I could state it as Carl V. does over at his blog “Stainless Steel Droppings”: “Pardon my French, dear readers, but To Be Read pile be damned, this book needs to find a home with you, immediately!” I should have listened to Carl sooner.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is an engaging read that had me laughing and guessing and turning. And even if I did make a fair guess early on, I was more interested in spending more time with Flavia and with Bradley’s clever wit. Really, the book ended so quickly. I was ready for more. Thank goodness this a Book One.

*********************

Check out Carl V.’s review @ Stainless Steel Droppings (and if you are looking for another brilliant book blog to follow? Bookmark while you are there.)

**********************

BTW I love the covers.

cover hangmanAlready requested from the Library: The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag: A Flavia de Luce Mystery, Book Two, which came out this past March, again Delacorte Press.

Flavia thinks that her days of crime-solving in the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacy are over — and then Rupert Porson has an unfortunate rendezvous with electricity. The beloved puppeteer has had his own strings sizzled, but who’d do such a thing and why? For Flavia, the questions are intriguing enough to make her put aside her chemistry experiments and schemes of vengeance against her insufferable big sisters. Astride Gladys, her trusty bicycle, Flavia sets out from the de Luces’ crumbling family mansion in search of Bishop’s Lacey’s deadliest secrets.

Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What of the vicar’s odd ministrations to the catatonic woman in the dovecote? Then there’s a German pilot obsessed with the Bronte sisters, a reproachful spinster aunt, and even a box of poisoned chocolates. Most troubling of all is Parson’s assistant, the charming but erratic Nialla. All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve — without Flavia’s help. But in getting so close to who’s secretly pulling the strings of this dance of death, has our precocious heroine finally gotten in way over her head?     ~publisher’s comments.

Can you hear my hands rubbing together? Carl recommends this one, too: his review. (which I followed to find his Sweetness review)

cover mustardAnd coming in February 2011 (Delacorte): A third book in the series:

A Red Herring without Mustard: A Flavia de Luce Mystery .

Award-winning author Alan Bradley returns with another beguiling novel starring the insidiously clever and unflappable eleven-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce. The precocious chemist with a passion for poisons uncovers a fresh slew of misdeeds in the hamlet of Bishop’s Lacey–mysteries involving a missing tot, a fortune-teller, and a corpse in Flavia’s own backyard.

~publisher’s comments.

* Please note: just because the protagonist is 11, that does not mean this is juvenile fiction…though I couldn’t see why not.  According to Powell’s it is categorized “General/Trade.”