In his wickedly clever debut mystery, Alan Bradley introduces the one and only Flavia de Luce: a refreshingly precocious, sharp, and impertinent 11-year old heroine who finds her way through a bizarre maze of mystery and deception. Bradley designs Bishop’s Lacey, a 1950s village, Buckshaw, the de Luce’s crumbling Gothic mansion, and reproduces the hedges, gently rolling hills, and battered lanes of the countryside with extraordinary detail. Suspense mounts up as Flavia digs up long-buried secrets after the corpse of an ominous stranger emerges in the cucumber patch of her country estate.
Not old enough to drive a motor vehicle; Flavia's only means of transport is her BFA Keep Fit bicycle which she has dubbed “Gladys”, does seem somewhat comical for an investigator. This means of transportation has her constantly considered nothing more than a young nuisance. But this does little to stop her as she sifts through clues and tries to lock the pieces together. Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie features a plethora of unforeseen twists and turns; it is without doubt, a rich literary delight.
The set of characters is drawn from every level of the class system. Unique interactions among characters from different social standings are conveyed, from the distraught, kindly gardener, to the impertinent daughter of the village innkeeper, to the prosperous de Luce family, and to the royalty. What appealed to me was that Flavia could trace her family’s history back many generations, and for one to be able to make these personal connections is exceptionally rare. This knowledge of their past is clearly related to the family’s many generations of wealth. Alan Bradley also paints an image of the British aristocracy, as it is important for the family to uphold aristocratic appearances even as its resources are drying up, being left to decay.
Five years following the Second World War, the setting of 1950s England is skillfully illustrated, as the nation is no longer much of a powerhouse. The way of life that has fulfilled the de Luce family is waning, as economic realism and modern life approach the under-funded country pile. Bradley captures the distinct era in history, a mixture of post-war adversity and the Empire coming to its end. Flavia is bemused; uninformed of the physiological effects the war had placed on Dogger, her father’s man, who suffers from shell-shock, or what we call “post-traumatic stress” today. There is, however, a remarkable relationship between Flavia and Dogger who is fully non-judgmental, and she interacts with him very differently than she does with others. Flavia also struggles to bring together the man her father is at home with the man he was as a soldier. Both men had witnessed very difficult military service, and although Flavia attempts to get them and other residents to speak of their memories, most of them refuse to say a thing. Wishing to disregard the scars of the past, the British tend to bottle up their...