Akhirnya’s CBR #39 The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (416p.)

I don’t really know what went wrong.  I like a good child genius story.  I love mysteries.  But somehow, Bradley’s combination of the two in 11 year old Flavia de Luce just did not work for me.  The first half the book was painful to get through and it was ultimately only finished because I had a lack of other things to read.

The mystery itself didn’t fare so well.  One day, a dead bird flies into the kitchen with a stamp speared upon its beak.  Later that night, Flavia wakes up to overhear her father in an argument with a strange man.  The next day, Flavia discovers a dead man’s body in the cucumber patch.  There is, of course, a mystery within a mystery as this death inevitably ties into another. The whole thing at once seemed overly complicated, with a death layered upon a death resulting from a heist, and completely simplistic.

I also had a tough time getting behind Flavia.  While I appreciate a girl that loves science, much of her obsession with chemistry seemed like a gimmick and distraction.  There’s also a total disconnect in her voice and her age.  I constantly had to remind myself that she was only eleven.  Her vocabulary, observations, and interactions with adults were just not believable at all.  The same could be said of similar characters like Artemis Fowl, but in that series despite his overly adult actions, the youth of Artemis is laid bare by his emotional maturity.  That’s not so with Flavia, although there are hints of it in her relationship with her sisters.  It’s possible that she’s better characterized and developed later in the series, but as it stands, you’ve really just got an eleven year old girl that is as grumpy as Nero Wolfe.

If you like British mysteries (but don’t mind the odd Canadian/Americanisms that are thrown in), precocious child masterminds, and the 1950s this will likely be the series for you.  It’s riding high on a lot of book club lists, so it definitely has its fan base.  I just don’t happen to be a part of it.

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