The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie

Paperback | November 10, 2009

byAlan Bradley

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Winner of the 2007 Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger

A delightfully dark English mystery, featuring precocious young sleuth Flavia de Luce and her eccentric family.

The summer of 1950 hasn’t offered up anything out of the ordinary for eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce: bicycle explorations around the village, keeping tabs on her neighbours, relentless battles with her older sisters, Ophelia and Daphne, and brewing up poisonous concoctions while plotting revenge in their home’s abandoned Victorian chemistry lab, which Flavia has claimed for her own.

But then a series of mysterious events gets Flavia’s attention: A dead bird is found on the doormat, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. A mysterious late-night visitor argues with her aloof father, Colonel de Luce, behind closed doors. And in the early morning Flavia finds a red-headed stranger lying in the cucumber patch and watches him take his dying breath. For Flavia, the summer 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.”

Did the stranger die of poisoning? There was a piece missing from Mrs. Mullet’s custard pie, and none of the de Luces would have dared to eat the awful thing. Or could he have been killed by the family’s loyal handyman, Dogger… or by the Colonel himself! At that moment, Flavia commits herself to solving the crime — even if it means keeping information from the village police, in order to protect her family. But then her father confesses to the crime, for the same reason, and it’s up to Flavia to free him of suspicion. Only she has the ingenuity to follow the clues that reveal the victim’s identity, and a conspiracy that reaches back into the de Luces’ murky past.

A thoroughly entertaining romp of a novel, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is inventive and quick-witted, with tongue-in-cheek humour that transcends the macabre seriousness of its subject.


From the Hardcover edition.

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From the Publisher

Winner of the 2007 Crime Writers’ Association Debut DaggerA delightfully dark English mystery, featuring precocious young sleuth Flavia de Luce and her eccentric family.The summer of 1950 hasn’t offered up anything out of the ordinary for eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce: bicycle explorations around the village, keeping tabs on her neig...

From the Jacket

"Sure in its story, pace and voice, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie deliciously mixes all the ingredients of great storytelling.The kind of novel you can pass on to any reader knowing their pleasure is assured."— Andrew Pyper, author of The Killing Circle"A wickedly clever story, a dead true and original voice, and an English co...

Alan Bradley was born in Toronto and grew up in Cobourg, Ontario. After receiving an education in electronic engineering, Alan worked at numerous radio and television stations in Ontario, and at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University) in Toronto, before becoming Director of Television Engineering in the media centre at...

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:400 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 1.1 inPublished:November 10, 2009Publisher:Doubleday CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0385665830

ISBN - 13:9780385665834

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Extra Content

Read from the Book

ONEIt was as black in the closet as old blood. They had shoved me in and locked the door. I breathed heavily through my nose, fighting desperately to remain calm. I tried counting to ten on every intake of breath, and to eight as I released each one slowly into the darkness. Luckily for me, they had pulled the gag so tightly into my open mouth that my nostrils were left unobstructed, and I was able to draw in one slow lungful after another of the stale, musty air.I tried hooking my fingernails under the silk scarf that bound my hands behind me but, since I always bit them to the quick, there was nothing to catch. Jolly good luck then that I’d remembered to put my fingertips together, using them as ten firm little bases to press my palms apart as they had pulled the knots tight.Now I rotated my wrists, squeezing them together until I felt a bit of slack, using my thumbs to work the silk down until the knots were between my palms — then between my fingers. If they had been bright enough to think of tying my thumbs together, I should never have escaped. What utter morons they were.With my hands free at last, I made short work of the gag.Now for the door. But first, to be sure they were not lying in wait for me, I squatted and peered out through the keyhole at the attic. Thank heavens they had taken the key away with them. There was no one in sight: save for its perpetual tangle of shadows, junk and sad bric-a-brac, the long attic was empty. The coast was clear.Reaching above my head at the back of the closet, I unscrewed one of the wire coat-hooks from its mounting board. By sticking its curved wing into the keyhole and levering the other end, I was able to form an L-shaped hook, which I poked into the depths of the ancient lock. A bit of judicious fishing and fiddling yielded a gratifying click. It was almost too easy. The door swung open and I was free.I skipped down the broad stone staircase into the hall, pausing at the door of the dining room just long enough to toss my pigtails back over my shoulders and into their regulation position.Father still insisted on dinner being served as the clock struck the hour and eaten at the massive oak refectory table, just as it had been when mother was alive.‘Ophelia and Daphne not down yet, Flavia?’ he asked peevishly, looking up from the latest issue of The British Philatelist, which lay open beside his meat and potatoes.‘I haven’t seen them in ages,’ I said.It was true. I hadn’t seen them — not since they had gagged and blindfolded me, then lugged me hogtied up the attic stairs and locked me in the closet.Father glared at me over his spectacles for the statutory four seconds before he went back to mumbling over his sticky treasures.I shot him a broad smile: a smile wide enough to present him with a good view of the wire braces that caged my teeth. Although they gave me the look of a dirigible with the skin off, Father always liked being reminded that he was getting his money’s worth. But this time he was too preoccupied to notice.I hoisted the lid off the Spode vegetable dish and, from the depths of its hand-painted butterflies and raspberries, spooned out a generous helping of peas. Using my knife as a ruler and my fork as a prod, I marshalled the peas so that they formed meticulous rows and columns across my plate: rank upon rank of little green spheres, spaced with a precision that would have delighted the heart of the most exacting Swiss watchmaker. Then, beginning at the bottom left, I speared the first pea with my fork and ate it.It was all Ophelia’s fault. She was, after all, seventeen, and therefore expected to possess at least a modicum of the maturity she should come into as an adult. That she should gang up with Daphne, who was thirteen, simply wasn’t fair. Their combined ages totalled thirty years. Thirty years! — against my eleven. It was not only unsporting, it was downright rotten. And it simply screamed out for revenge.Next morning I was busy among the flasks and flagons of my chemical laboratory on the top floor of the east wing when Ophelia barged in without so much as a la-di-dah.‘Where’s my pearl necklace?’I shrugged. ‘I’m not the keeper of your trinkets.’‘I know you took it. The Mint Imperials that were in my lingerie drawer are gone too, and I’ve observed that missing mints in this household seem always to wind up in the same grubby little mouth.’I adjusted the flame on a spirit lamp that was heating a beaker of red liquid. ‘If you’re insinuating that my personal hygiene is not up to the same high standard as yours you can go suck my galoshes.’‘Flavia!’‘Well, you can. I’m sick and tired of being blamed for everything, Feely.’But my righteous indignation was cut short as Ophelia peered short-sightedly into the ruby flask, which was just coming to the boil.‘What’s that sticky mass in the bottom?’ Her long, manicured fingernail tapped at the glass.‘It’s an experiment. Careful, Feely, it’s acid!’Ophelia’s face went white. ‘Those are my pearls! They belonged to Mummy!’Ophelia was the only one of Harriet’s daughters who referred to her as ‘Mummy’; the only one of us old enough to have any real memories of the flesh-and-blood woman who had carried us in her body, a fact that Ophelia never tired of reminding us. Harriet had been killed in a mountaineering accident when I was just a year old, and she was not often spoken of at Buckshaw.Was I jealous of Ophelia’s memories? Did I resent them? I don’t believe I did; it ran far deeper than that. In rather an odd way, I despised Ophelia’s memories of our mother.I looked up slowly from my work so that the round lenses of my spectacles would flash blank white semaphores of light at her. I knew that whenever I did this, Ophelia had the horrid impression that she was in the presence of some mad black-and-white German scientist in a film at the Gaumont.‘Beast!’‘Hag!’ I retorted. But not until Ophelia had spun round on her heel — quite neatly, I thought — and stormed out the door.Retribution was not long in coming, but then with Ophelia, it never was. Ophelia was not, as I was, a long-range planner who believed in letting the soup of revenge simmer to perfection.From the Hardcover edition.

Bookclub Guide

1. With her high level of knowledge, her erudition and her self-reliance, Flavia hardly seems your typical eleven-year-old girl. Or does she? Discuss Flavia and her personality, and how her character drives this novel. Can you think of other books that have used a similar protagonist?2. The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie falls within the tradition of English country house mysteries, but with the devilishly intelligent Flavia racing around Bishop’s Lacey on her bike instead of the expected older woman ferreting out the truth by chatting with her fellow villagers. Discuss how Bradley uses the traditions of the genre, and how he plays with them too.3. What is your favourite scene from The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie?4. With her excessive interest in poisons and revenge, it’s no surprise that Flavia is fascinated, not scared, as she watches the stranger die in her garden. In your view, is her dark matter-of-factness more refreshing or disturbing?5. Flavia reminds us often about Harriet, the mother she never knew, and has many keepsakes that help her imagine what she was like. Do you think the real Harriet would have fit into Flavia’s mould?6. Flavia’s distance from her father, the Colonel, is obvious, yet she loves him all the same. Does their relationship change over the course of the novel in a lasting way? Would Flavia want it to?7. Through Flavia’s eyes what sort of a picture does Alan Bradley paint of the British aristocracy? Think as well about how appearances aren’t always reality, as with the borderline bankruptcy of Flavia’s father and Dr. Kissing.8. Discuss the meaning (or meanings) of the title The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.9. What twists in the plot surprised you the most?10. Buckshaw, the estate, is almost a character in its own right here, with its overlarge wings, hidden laboratory, and pinched front gates. Talk about how Bradley brings the setting to life in this novel — not only Buckshaw itself, but Bishop’s Lacey and the surrounding area.11. What does Flavia care about most in life? How do the people around her compare to her chemistry lab and books?12. Like any scientist. Flavia expects her world to obey certain rules, and seems to be thrown off kilter when surprises occur. How much does she rely on the predictability of those around her, like her father and her sisters, in order to pursue her own interests (like solving the murder)? Is Flavia truly surprised when Feely and Dogger come to her rescue?

Editorial Reviews

"Sure in its story, pace and voice, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie deliciously mixes all the ingredients of great storytelling.The kind of novel you can pass on to any reader knowing their pleasure is assured."— Andrew Pyper, author of The Killing Circle"A wickedly clever story, a dead true and original voice, and an English country house in the summer: Alexander McCall Smith meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Please, please, Mr. Bradley, tell me we'll be seeing Flavia again soon?" — Laurie R. King, New York Times bestselling author of The Game“One of the hottest reads of 2009.” — The Times (U.K.)“Alan Bradley brews a bubbly beaker of fun in his devilishly clever, wickedly amusing debut mystery, launching an eleven-year-old heroine with a passion for chemistry — and revenge! What a delightful, original book!” — Carolyn Hart, Anthony and Agatha award-winning author of Death Walked In“Alan Bradley’s marvelous book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, is a fantastic read, a winner. Flavia walks right off the page and follows me through my day. I can hardly wait for the next book. Bravo.” — Louise Penny, acclaimed author of Still LifePraise from the CWA Dagger Award judges:“The most original of the bunch, I think, with a deliciously deceptive opening which really sets the tone of macabre fun. Flavia is a wonderful creation, along with the rest of her eccentric family, and makes for a highly engaging sleuth. Think the Mitfords, as imagined by Dorothy L Sayers. The plot, with its intriguing philatelic elements, is nicely ingenious and delivers a very good end, with a fun twist. Would make very good Sunday night telly, I think.”“I adored this! Our heroine is refreshingly youthful, funny and sharp and the author creates such a strong sense of time and place. Flavia’s eccentric family are delightful and I love seeing them interact within their crazy home. There are also interesting depths to the plot — the stamp collecting, the chemistry experiments, and the acknowledgement of past events and how they have affected these characters. The author’s tone is very tongue-in-cheek and offers something quite different in this genre, and the story is cleverly structured and beautifully written. This doesn’t read like a first novel. Assuming the mystery itself will be as enticing and smoothly handled as the opening, I can see Flavia solving crimes into adulthood. Great title too!”“Really adored the voice of the characters in this — especially Flavia, the spirited main protagonist — and the sense of place is beautifully described, particularly when telling the history of the house and its inhabitants. The family unit, comprising of the taciturn, introspective Colonel and his three daughters is well written, humorous and the sibling relationships very realistic. The author should be praised for creating a work that has nostalgic interest as well as a murder mystery, in places this almost reads like an Enid Blyton novel for adults!”From the Hardcover edition.