Last weekend, I was completely floored by what must have been one of the nastiest colds in cold history. It was decidedly un-fun, and I was sort of incapacitated for most things except drinking tea, eating the soup carefully prepared by Mr Liburuak, taking ibuprofen, coughing, sniffling, whinging, re-watching The West Wing, and reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Come to think of it, this sounds like I did quite a lot of things. Mostly it felt like I was lying on the couch vegetating.
Luckily, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is one of those books you need when you have a bad cold (also because the protagonist gets a bad head cold at one point, so I could sympathise). I think its perfectly described by the words lovely, cute, and comfort reading. The book is the first of the Flavia de Luce series and I could well imagine reading a few more of them at some point.
11 year-old Flavia is growing up in 1950s rural England with her widowed father and two perfectly horrible older sisters, Daphne (Daffy) and Ophelia (Feely), loyal jack-of-all-trades Dogger who has been traumatised by the Second World War, and a terrible cook. Flavia’s passion is chemistry – sub-specialty: poisons – and her sanctuary is the lab established by a great uncle (or something like that) in the attic. The de Luces are living in a little bubble, but under the surface a lot of trauma is going on, mostly to do with the recent war and the loss of the girl’s mother, Harriet, who died in a mountaineering accident and is sorely missed by all members of the family – of course without anyone ever really talking about it. This adds an interesting dimension to the novel, giving it some additional depth. Another aspect that achieves this is that each of the de Luce girls has an intellectual passion: for Flavia it’s chemistry, for Daffy it’s literature, and for Feely it’s music. But one day, the de Luce’s secluded lives are disturbed by a corpse in the cucumber patch. Flavia’s father is quickly arrested as the prime suspect. But what really happened? Flavia begins to investigate…
This is a lovely whodunnit with a very smart and mighty precocious protagonist. I’d describe it as a crossover between Agatha Christie and the Famous Five, with an added dose of intellect and finally, a girl detective who’s not afraid of getting her dress dirty.