The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie



  • The sweetness at the bottom of the pie [electronic resource] / Alan Bradley.


Publication Info

  • New York : Delacorte Press, 2009.


  • Description based on print version record.


  • 9780440338468 (electronic bk. : Adobe Digital Editions); $48.00
  • 0440338468 (electronic bk. : Adobe Digital Editions)


  • 1 online resource (373 p.)


  • Hardcover
  • Large print
  • CD
  • eBook
  • Downloadable audio ebook


5Q, 5P


  • Mystery, traditional
  • Some classify as young adult

Reader’s Annotation

Eleven-year-old chemist Flavia de Luce must use her special talents to clear her father of murder.


The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is Alan Bradley’s first Flavia de Luce novel. Flavia is a precocious 11-year-old with a talent for chemistry (emphasis on poisons) and a penchant for solving murder mysteries. Flavia lives with her father, Colonel de Luce, and two older sisters in a decaying old estate just outside the village of Bishop’s Lacey in post-World War II England.

One day, the housekeeper, Mrs. Mullet, opens the back door to find a dead snipe with a stamp stuck to its beak laying on the doorstep. Flavia’s father goes pale and breathless, but grabs the stamp and places it in his pocket. Late that night, Flavia hears her father arguing with a man. She peeks into the study and hears her father say, “And we killed him.” What could it mean? The next morning, Flavia literally stumbles over the man’s dead body in the cucumber patch. Instead of feeling fright, Flavia feels that this is the most interesting thing that has happened in her life. Things go from interesting to urgent, however, when Flavia must help clear her father’s name.


The British country estate setting of this series is perfect. One can almost smell the damp stones of Buckshaw and see the lush green and misty countryside. The characters are complex and well-drawn, with Flavia herself an odd combination of smart, tough detective and wounded, neglected child.  Her father is an eccentric, withdrawn gentleman who pops into awareness at the most inopportune and surprising times for Flavia. Then there are her wickedly mean sisters, the intuitive and dependable but haunted handyman Dogger, and Mrs. Mullet, the gossipy housekeeper who unwittingly feeds Flavia ‘s need for information—all of whom are capable of busting out of their stereotypes at any moment to surprise and delight.

While characters and setting are wonderfully developed, Bradley has a deft hand with a mystery, too. For a small place, Bishops Lacey is a deadly one. While not gory or graphic, the novel is also not cozy. The clues are challenging, the author explores the dark side of human nature, and characters are often placed in real danger.  Flavia’s knowledge of chemicals often places her far ahead of Inspector Hewitt, her police counterpart, who is both irritated and bemused by Flavia.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a rollicking good read for mystery buffs. Flavia de Luce will surely take her place as a classic British sleuth.


This series of books is adult fiction (some categorize it as young adult) with an 11-year-old protaganist who has great appeal. The titles and covers are unique and outstanding.


The author’s website

An interview with BookBrowse

Goodreads interview





For a laugh, click here for an elementary school production imagining Flavia de Luce in America.

Appeal Factors

Fans of traditional mystery or quirky sleuths will love this book. Anglophiles may also find plenty to love. It might also appeal to those who grew up with great girl sleuths like Nancy Drew or Trixie Belden.


Love Lies Bleeding, by Edmund Crispin. Both books feature a precocious girl sleuth with an eccentric family. Love Lies Bleeding pairs the girl with an eccentric English professor.

The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, by Laurie R. King. These books share a historical English setting and a fearless and intelligent young girl as the protaganist.

Hotel Paradise, by Martha Grimes. These books feature young girls as sleuths who are not taken seriously by their elders. This book has an American setting, while Sweetness has a historical English setting.


Agatha Awards: Best First Novel

Arthur Ellis Awards: Best First Novel

Dilys Award

Macavity Awards: Best First Mystery Novel

Amelia Bloomer Lists: Young Adult Fiction, 2010

YALSA Best Books for Young Adults, 2010

Booktalk Ideas

This book has a lot of great talking points, but highlighting the humor by using the plot to poison her sister’s lipstick would be fun.

Discussion Questions

In many stories, older daughters with dead mothers become motherly towards the younger children. Why is Flavia’s relationship with her sisters so complicated?

Discuss the differences between parenting today and in Flavia’s setting of the 1950’s English countryside. Could this story happen today? Was Flavia especially free to roam even for her times because of her parental situation?

How would you describe Flavia’s relationship with Dogger? How does he assist her in her investigative endeavors? In life in general?

How does Flavia’s precociousness affect your opinion of the character? Would she be more or less believable if she were less intelligent?

Were you able to solve the mystery before the reveal? What clues helped you or confused you?

Why I chose this book

I was introduced to this book as a book club pick, but probably would have also been drawn by the unique title, cover, and protaganist.

Other Information

The author is Canadian and had never been to England before writing the book. He still creates a great English village atmosphere!

Memory Hooks

Flavia de Luce, chemistry lab, Gladys, Dogger, Bishops Lacey, stamps


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