I found a great little mystery during my weekly volunteer hours at my local library, called "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie". It's a quirky, decidedly British story, set in England in about 1952. The heroine who tells the story, as well as solves the mystery, is the precocious, irresistible 11-year old Flavia DeLuce. She is entertaining, intelligent, enchanting, and has a humourous mad-scientist flair, due to her love of all things chemical and her obsession with poisons. She is witty and clever, and takes the reader through the story as only an 11-year-old girl can do.
Flavia lives in an old mansion, on a large estate called Buckshaw, with her two older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, and her widower father, who is an enthusiastic philatelist (stamp collector). Her sisters are appropriately spiteful, cruel and nasty. The housekeeper is an almost stereo-typically wide-eyed gossip, flighty and chatty. I love the gardener, Dogger,- he's retired from the military and his mind isn't quite right since the war. He is sweet and cares for Flavia when it seems like no one else does.
I learned a lot about stamps, poisons, chemistry, and England reading this book, but not in the boring, read-and-learn format you get at school. I did have to look up multiple terms and cultural references that I, having never lived in England (much less in the early 50's), was totally unfamiliar with. I returned the book to the library before writing this, so I can't site any, but the book is rich with references that make the reader feel as though he is sitting down to tea in the English countryside.
What surprised me most about this book was that I didn't really look at the title page or the text on the cover (which is unusual, I admit), and I assumed it was written by a woman. Normally, I prefer male writers, so I was all kinds of excited about having found a book I liked by a woman. But then I read the dust jacket at the end of the book. It was written by an old man! Ha! What a great writer! When I grow up, I want to write just like him. His use of metaphors and the intertwining of details throughout the book are masterful. I am so surprised that this is his first novel. Welcome to my list of authors I love, Alan Bradley.
Quotes from Flavia that I just love:
"As I stood outside in Cow Lane, it occurred to me that Heaven must be a place where the library is open twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. No ... eight days a week."
"A peculiar feeling passed over me--or, rather, through me, as if I were an umbrella remembering what it felt like to pop open in the rain. "