What’s it all about?:
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.”
What did I think?:
I have to admit I was first attracted to this novel by the extremely quirky title and the promise of a precocious and determined female protagonist. Essentially, The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie provided me with exactly this but I was delighted to get so much more besides. This novel is like a hot water bottle in your bed on a freezing night and the cosiness of the narrative is perfectly complimented with our wonderful female lead, whose endearing qualities and dogged stubbornness to root out the truth is both charming and heart-warming.
Our setting is 1950’s England, where eleven year old Flavia de Luce lives with her father and two older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne. Flavia has a thirst for knowledge and a keen mind, being particularly interested in chemistry and the possibility of incorporating poison ivy into her older sister’s lipstick when she annoys her!
If Feely only knew that lipstick was made from fish scales, I thought, she might be a little less eager to slather the stuff all over her mouth. I must remember to tell her. I grinned. Later.
However, Flavia’s mind is about to be thoroughly tested after a number of strange occurrences. First, she finds a dead bird with a postage stamp attached to its beak and then a little later, she finds a strange man dying in the cucumber patch in her garden. Rather than being terrified, Flavia becomes set on discovering what has happened to the stranger, why it happened and who is responsible. As a result, her amateur detective skills and intelligent ponderings lead her right into the heart of a rather sinister mystery where she will not rest until it is resolved.
I’ve read quite mixed reviews of this novel on Goodreads, particularly about the character of Flavia who seems to be a bit of a “marmite” individual for various reviewers. I can completely understand this, Flavia can be incredibly annoying, nosey and stubborn and I can see why she might frustrate some readers. However, I adored her. Her sense of humour (as illustrated in the above quote) was so engaging and I loved all the opportunities Alan Bradley took in the novel to make me smile, they were so numerous. If I had to describe this novel to anyone interested in reading it, I would perhaps talk about a miniature, female Sherlock Holmes with the wit of the very best stand up comedian in a setting Agatha Christie would be proud of.
It’s a real feel-good story and although the mystery isn’t difficult to unravel for the reader and in fact, I did guess what was going on fairly quickly, it doesn’t matter in the slightest. The beauty of this book for me is to be had in the character of Flavia and the way she unpicks a very mysterious murder. I can only imagine growing to love this character more and more as the series continues and I simply must make time for the second book, which also has another fantastic title – The Weed That Strings The Hangman’s Bag.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):