Thursday, December 25, 2014

Flavia's Sweetness

"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.'"

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was just as sweet as its title.  Sliding from Martha Grimes’ twelve-year-old sleuth, Emma Graham, and into Alan Bradley’s similarly close-aged sleuth, Flavia de Luce, proved successful.  The tartness and twang the two series share is undeniable, albeit explored through protagonists who are a year and decade apart as well as from different countries.  Nevertheless, hear me when I say that Flavia is just as precious, intuitive, resourceful, and smart-alecky as Grimes' Emma. I will say that Emma’s mouth is a lot slicker than Flavia, though. Flavia has her moments when she "reads" an adult or peer down, but she’s not as creatively shady as Emma.  That's probably because Emma's pessimistic and general disregard for any adult who sees her only as a child is a lot stronger.  Whereas Flavia uses an adult's perspective of her to become virtually "invisible" as she snoops.  Seriously, the girl walked straight through the police station at one point and, upon getting caught, bubbled up tears used to ensure her way forward.  Emma would've pitched a fit, but eventually gain the same results. 

Nonetheless, let’s not split hairs here. The truth is that both ladies know how to carry a pleasurable, humorous and intriguing narrative. And respectively speaking, I can't count the number of times I burst out laughing while reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. It was simply hilarious watching the curious and outspoken Flavia attempt to solve her given murder mystery; whether she’s questioning a suspect, giving the police crap, or pedaling her bicycle all across the English village she lives in.  And she's not always 100%, but I pique in those tiny moments where she considers something I may have looked over.  An example as simple as her pulling her bike into a shed, so that she can rifle through old newspapers unbothered, is one considerable moment.  Or her hanging back behind a tree to witness an argument, and then walking forward as if casual and unawares (with a high-pitch greeting) is another.  Or covering her ass on the spot with a shameless lie when her presence comes into question.  So I appreciated her thoughtfulness and forward thinking.

Oh, and I have to mention how passionate she is about chemistry and uses her knowledge of it throughout the book. However, on the flip-side, she’s not exactly passionate and mindful of her own family.  While her two older sisters often give her hell, Flavia does have to look after them as well as her father.  (Her mother, Harriett, passed when Flavia was too young to remember her.)  Nonetheless, there were sweet moments where Flavia sort of appointed herself guardian of her father, who naturally found himself arrested as a suspect while the murder took place on his property.  And even toward the end, it was Flavia's oldest sister that came to her rescue.  I've kind of grown to like the de Luces, so I'm interested in seeing their family grow and develop as a sort of B-hook to the series.  Because essentially there's a lot of interesting points made in this area.

I can say that I’m hooked to this series now, and can't wait to start on the next book. Except for a few questionable investigative moments–like Flavia using her braces to pick a lock–The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie was a wonderful ride.  It wasn't the most guttural or complicated of mysteries, and sometimes the backstory related to the victim got in the way of watching Flavia flourish on paper.  Nonetheless, all that rounded out as a necessity to the mystery and narrative.  Otherwise, you may find yourself caring less about Flavia's troubles and fine detection.



Just like with Emma, I have to capture and quote my favorite moments with Flavia.  These are the times I cracked up the most.

"It was dark inside the little bedroom, but there was light enough to see the form lying on the bed; to see the white face staring back at me, its mouth gaping open in a horrid 'O.'

'Flavia!' Miss Cool said, scrambling to her feet, her words muffled by the window glass.  'What on earth–?'

She snatched her false teeth from a tumbler and rammed them into her mouth, then vanished for a moment, and as I leaped to the ground I heard the sound of the bolt being shot back.  The door opened inwards to reveal her standing there–like a trapped badger–in a housedress, her hand clutching and opening in nervous spasms at her throat.

'What on earth...?' she repeated.  'What's the matter?'

'The front door's locked,' I said.  'I couldn't get in.'"


"One day when I found her sobbing on the bench with her head on the closed piano lid, I had whispered, 'Give it up, Daff,' and she had flown at me like a fighting cock.

I had even tried encouragement.  Whenever I heard her at the Broadwood, I would drift into the drawing room, lean against the piano, and gaze off into the distance as if her playing hand enchanted me.  Usually she ignored me, but once when I said, 'What a lovely piece that is!  What's it called?' she had almost slammed the lid on my fingers.

'The scale of G major!' she had shrieked, and fled the room.

Buckshaw was not an easy place in which to live."


"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.

'Ay, that's her,' said the suntanned one.

'Mr. Ruggles here has reason to believe that you were up in the tower,' the Inspector said, with a nod at the white mustache.

'What if I was?' I said.  'I was just having a look round.'

'The tower's off limits,' Mr. Ruggles said loudly.  'Off limits!  And so it says on the sign.  Can't you read?'

I gave him a graceful shrug."


"'Feely,' I said, turning on her, 'do me a favor:  Pop back into the pit and fetch me my handkerchief–and be sure to bring me what's wrapped up inside it.  Your dress is already filthy, so it won't make much difference.  There's a good girl.'

Feely's jaw dropped about a yard, and I thought for a moment she was going to punch me in the teeth.  Her whole face grew as red as her lips.  And then suddenly she spun on her heel and vanished into the shadows of the Pit Shed."


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