Friday, 26 April 2013

Chemistry, Murder, and Sibling Rivalry

I'm writing this entry on Mike's new laptop, our desktop still being MIA, and I think I never want to give it back to him again! Very slick . . . but then he'd just retaliate, our home would become a war zone, our children taken away from us, and then our cats would starve. So, I'd better just give it back when I'm done with it. It's for the cats.

I wanted to share a fabulous series with you that I'm totally addicted to, and am very ticked off that I have to wait until "early 2014" for the next instalment. My friend Lynette has belonged to a book club for a while now, and though she invited me, I simply could not commit to another weekly thing. However, I started creeping on their book choices, and the first one that Lynette had me read was The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Allan Bradley. Bradley is a Canadian author, and actually worked at the University of Saskatchewan for 25 years, so when this book came out (his debut novel), there was a lot of local buzz. However, it's not a setting you'd expect when you hear his background.

It's rural England in 1950, a small town known as Bishop's Lacey, and nearby is a crumbling estate, where a single father is raising his three daughters. Colonel de Luce is a WWII veteran, and a widower, and has retreated emotionally from his girls with a very stoic, stiff upper lip demeanour. The three girls rather run wild, from 16 year old Ophelia (very vain, a flirt, but a musical prodigy), to 13 year old Daphne (a sarcastic book worm who's a encyclopedia of knowledge), to 11 year old Flavia.

Flavia is the main character of Bradley's books, and I love her to bits. Really. She's a genius chemist, whose has a special place in her heart for poisons, and routinely uses her knowledge to avenge herself on her horrible sisters. Flavia hates taking baths, has her own laboratory, and is the person in the family most able to deal with Dogger, their valet/butler/gardener. Dogger fought with Colonel de Luce in the war and had been imprisoned with him in a POW camp in Japan. Dogger is a touching picture of a PTSD case, his duties at Buckshaw varying according to his mental capacity. However, Dogger is often Flavia's silent partner in figuring out the mysteries around Bishop's Lacey's sudden rise in murder statistics.

Every book has Flavia discovering a body, and then trying to beat the police in solving the crime. She's precocious, but not annoyingly so, and quite the little rebel. Racing around the county on her bicycle, Gladys, Flavia introduces us to the typical residents of the countryside, who we find not so typical in the end. Just as you get caught up in thinking this girl an adult, something happens between her and her sisters that pulls you back into childhood rivalries. Many poignant notes are sounded regarding the girls' departed mother, Harriet, whom the Colonel is still grieving after 10 years, and whom Flavia apparently closely resembles.

I have really enjoyed every book in this series (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, A Red Herring Without Mustard, I'm Half-Sick of Shadows, and Speaking from Among the Bones), but I think the first is my favourite. The newness of these characters, the delightful authenticity of the setting, the almost Addams Family/Agatha Christie/Nancy Drew feel of it is so unique to anything I've read before. The wit is dry (just how I like it), the pranks hilarious, and the way you slowly learn more about Harriet in every book just keeps you reading. They're great mysteries, but have an emotional depth and meat to them not always seen in cloak-and-dagger fiction.

So get writing Mr. Bradley!!! The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches can't come out soon enough!


  1. I am SO with you on your review of this book and series, Amanda. For those of who may not know, Amanda gave me the first book for one of my birthdays with a note that said "Come join me in my new obsession!" And she was right - we love these books and need Mr. Bradley to get busy.

    While Flavia IS the genius Amanda tells you about, her fragility as the youngest child and 11-year-old startle you as you read through the book/s. She is so very capable and focused that you forget her age.

    A lively, interesting and poignant series, I also highly recommend it.

    Great review again, Amanda!

  2. Never have I been more tempted to start a book series starring an 11-year old girl detective. ;)

  3. Go with it Jared, you will not be disapponted!