The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce is an ordinary 11-year-old girl–she pesters her older sisters (who pester her in return), takes bike rides through the countryside, worships at the altar of chemistry–wait, what?

Let’s try this again.

It’s 1950 in rural England. Flavia de Luce lives near the village of Bishop’s Lacey with her father and two older sisters, in an old, rambling house called Buckshaw. For the most part, life at Buckshaw is uneventful–sure, her sisters lock her in a closet sometimes, but that’s only to be expected from older sisters.

One day, a dead bird turns up on the kitchen doorstep with a penny stamp skewered on its beak. It’s weird, but Flavia dismisses it–until early the next morning, when she discovers a corpse in the cucumber patch. What’s more, she’s reasonably sure the body belongs to the man she overheard arguing with her father late the night before. The police are duly summoned; Flavia, fascinated, tries to observe the proceedings but is sent away. So, of course, she decides to launch her own investigation into the death of the mysterious stranger. And a good thing, too, because her father is soon arrested and charged with the murder.

The clues lead Flavia down the path of history, to a mysterious suicide (or was it?) at a nearby school some 30 years before, over the loss of an incredibly rare stamp.

When it first came out, this book won all the awards, and it deserves every one of them. It’s an engaging mystery, brilliantly realized.

Flavia is one of the most original and engaging heroines in fiction today. She’s smart, she’s clever, she’s not always likeable–just like any other 11-year-old (except for the aforementioned obsession with chemistry, that is). But that brings me to another point. Despite the youth of the protagonist, this book isn’t YA. I don’t mean that it’s full of adult content or anything like that, but it’s not a kid’s book–it just happens to feature one.

Can Flavia follow the trail of clues and exonerate her father? What really happened at the school 30 years ago? Will she get revenge on her sisters? Pick up this book, dig deep, and see if you can find the Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Favorite Line:

Was I now inducted, and would I be expected to take part in unspeakably bloody midnight rituals in the hedgerows? It seemed like an interesting possibility.

Don’t read if: you have any sort of problem with stamps, pie, overly inquisitive 11-year-olds, chemistry, or bicycles with names.