About Me

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Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada
I am a lawyer in Melfort, Saskatchewan, Canada who enjoys reading, especially mysteries. Since 2000 I have been writing personal book reviews. This blog includes my reviews, information on and interviews with authors and descriptions of mystery bookstores I have visited. I strive to review all Saskatchewan mysteries. Other Canadian mysteries are listed under the Rest of Canada. As a lawyer I am always interested in legal mysteries. I have a separate page for legal mysteries. Occasionally my reviews of legal mysteries comment on the legal reality of the mystery. You can follow the progression of my favourite authors with up to 15 reviews. Each year I select my favourites in "Bill's Best of ----". As well as current reviews I am posting reviews from 2000 to 2011. Below my most recent couple of posts are the posts of Saskatchewan mysteries I have reviewed alphabetically by author. If you only want a sentence or two description of the book and my recommendation when deciding whether to read the book look at the bold portion of the review. If you would like to email me the link to my email is on the profile page.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley – I had not read any of the series involving Flavia de Luce despite many positive reviews. I have so many series I am reading I hesitated even though the author lived in Saskatchewan for 25 years. Prompted by an article I will be writing about Saskatchewan mysteries I read The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie and regret I had not started the series sooner.

Within a few pages I knew I had encountered a special character in Flavia. I do not read many books featuring 11 year old sleuths. In the Leaders & Legacies series the young future Canadian Prime Ministers are 12 – 13 years of age. The books are written for a young adult audience. While such an audience can appreciate The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie it is a great book for every age of reader. I had the same feeling reading The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie I had when I read the first Harry Potter book. I was taken into a new world of a fascinating young person that enthralled me.

I was also closely reminded of the impact Scout Finch, 6 years old in To Kill a Mockingbird, had upon me. Harper Lee had created a wonderful young character to lead the story. At the same time Lee’s characterization was appropriate for Scout’s age.

Flavia lives with her older sisters and her widowed father in the de Luce ancestral home of Buckshaw in the English countryside. It is 1950 and England is still recovering from the war.

The sibling rivalry between Flavia (Flave), Ophelia (Feely) and Daphne (Daffy) is unending. While it is really Flavia versus her combined older sisters the odds do not trouble Flavia. She knows she is brighter and fiercer than Feely and Daffy. Feely is absorbed in her appearance. Daffy is constantly reading. Flavia is a scientist with a devious mind.

Flavia loves chemistry. She has a particular affection for poisons. Her knowledge of chemistry is impressive and was accelerated by the full equipped laboratory that was set up in Buckshaw by a scientifically inclined uncle. She is constantly conducting experiments.

When a dead jack snipe, a stamp impaled upon its beak, is left upon the step Flavia is fascinated especially when her father is shaken after he closely examines he bird and stamp. What is the meaning behind this cryptic offering and why should her father have such a reaction to a dead bird?

A short time later a stranger is expiring in the garden, the cucumbers to be exact. With his final breath he utters “vale” (farewell) to Flavia. She is intrigued rather than frightened. She is determined to apply her scientific skills to determine what has happened.

Urgency is given to her investigation when her father, Laurence (Jacko), is arrested for murder of the stranger.

The investigation takes Flavia back to her father’s boarding school experiences at Greyminister 30 years earlier.

A philatelic treasure is at the heart of the book. Having been a member of the American Philatelic Society for almost 50 years I was very interested in the role of stamps in the story. I intend to write a further post on philately and The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

There is cunning evil in the book. It was great to read a mystery with a worthy adversary for Flavia and for the mystery to be solved by intelligence rather than violence. It is far more sophisticated than many mysteries involving adult sleuths.

Flavia is precocious and credible. Her ardour for chemistry reflects a passion for a pre-teen I found believable.

I was glad to read a book about a young person who is academically bright. I recall being a pre-teen interested in books beyond the reading expected for my age. I equally remember contemporaries praised athletic skill far more than academic talent.

I know I have a good book when I am anxious to read the next in the series. Fortunately, I have already purchased The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag. It has moved up the TBR pile.


  1. I'm so happy to hear, Bill, that you liked this as much as you did. I think Flavia is a great character, too. And I like very much that the story is also a challenging mystery. So there's a solid plot and, as you point out, a worthy adversary. I hope you'll like the other Flavia stories, too.

    1. Margot: Thanks for the comment. It is not often I get to read a terrific new sleuth.

  2. I am glad you enjoyed this book and want to continue the series, Bill. I look forward to seeing what you think of the next book. I was surprised to like this series so much. I enjoyed Flavia's focus on science and investigating and the interesting characters she meets up with.

    1. TracyK: Thanks for the comment. You raise a good point about her passion for science. It is a rare fictional sleuth who is interested in science.

  3. "A philatelic treasure is at the heart of the book." Bill, that alone would be reason for me to read this book. I no longer collect stamps but I occasionally sit with my dad's old collection and learn something new each time. I find shades of Harry Potter in many such books, just as I found shades of JRR in the Potter series. It is interesting that Harry also started his adventures at the age of eleven. These books are for all ages. I find them entertaining.

    1. Prashant: Thanks for the comment. I am not surprised you have been interested in stamps during your life. It is clear from your blog you have lots of diverse interests.

  4. I read this one but did not continue with the series - it will be interesting to read your review of the next one.

    1. Moira: Thanks for the comment. I expect it will appear later this year.

  5. Perfectly plotted, laid out with just the right amount of humor and detail, and wrapped up beautifully at the end, "The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie" is a surprisingly good treat. Do not be deceived; this is no "cozy" mystery, but one with enough intensity to please the more hardcore mystery reader.