By Alan Bradley
I read a recommendation for Alan Bradley’s Flavia de Luce mystery series online and was intrigued by the idea of an 11-year-old girl detective in a small British town in the 1950s (seriously, who wouldn’t be?). Reading some background on the series before diving in, I also learned that the author wrote his first book, the first in this series, at the age of 70, which is just very encouraging to people who haven’t quite found the time to pursue their passion yet. Of course, he’s had to spend years now answering why a 70-year-old man chose an 11-year-old girl as his protagonist, which has got to get a little tiresome, but I thought his answer was a good one: he wanted his protagonist to be someone who is almost invisible in society, so is able to go unnoticed in pretty much every situation.
Anyway, I started with the first book, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (I love his titles), and it was an utter delight! The mystery is a little obvious, but I was much more willing to forgive Flavia for not putting the pieces together much sooner, especially since a great deal of her time is spent trying to disrupt her family whenever possible. Her family consists of her emotionally distant widowed father and two older sisters banging around in their centuries-old ancestral home, and it is just classic British flakiness.
The author is maybe a little heavy with the similes at times, but though it sometimes distracted me, it was inoffensive overall. A sign of my advancing age may be that I often sympathized with the poor inspector who was just trying to solve a somewhat unpleasant murder and everywhere he turns, there’s a small girl underfoot, certainly quite bright, but still a very young child nonetheless. I struggle a bit to describe how well I think the author describes Flavia’s brilliance while also keeping her clearly quite young.
The second book, The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (seriously, such fun titles!), however, has a passage in it that I think really showcases the balance and which I particularly loved. I’m including it after a page cut, not because it has spoilers (though it does spoil Madame Bovary, so take that caution I guess), but so that it doesn’t fill up the entire home page: Continue reading