Tag Archives: Detective stories

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

SweetnessBibliographic Information:

Bradley, A. (2009). The sweetness at the bottom of the pie. Toronto: Anchor Canada. (978-0-385-66583-4)

Flavia de Luce series, bk. 1

Plot Summary:

Flavia de Luce is having an interesting day. First, she escapes from being blindfolded and tied up in her closet by her sisters. Then she is present to see the fear on her father’s face when he finds a dead bird with a postage stamp in its’ beak on their doorstep. Later, she overhears her father arguing with a mystery man in his study – only to find this same man dead in their cucumber patch the next morning.

And so, a new detective is born. As she says, “I wish I could say I was afraid but I wasn’t. Quite the contrary. This was by far the most interesting thing that had ever happened to me in my entire life.” But it will not be her last. In her investigations she will search a man’s room, climb a tower, be kidnapped, and of course, perform some chemistry. In the end, will it be enough to save her father from prison or will she find herself sharing the cell beside him?

Critical Evaluation:

Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is an excellent example of how a character comes from a certain place and time. In this case, Flavia needs to come from a home where she has a great deal of freedom so she can investigate the crime but also so she can do her chemistry experiments. Further, she comes from a world where girls are not expected to be adventurous or interested in worldly matters. Much of the humor of the novel comes from Flavia’s unconventional responses or her reactions to people’s expectations of her. Part of this can be attributed to her age. She is young enough at eleven to still be outspoken and be a hoyden. These behaviors may not have been as believable in a heroine at sixteen, for example.

Flavia’s ongoing spates with her sisters and irrepressible personality add a level of normalcy and humor to her character. As a result her character is Anne of Green Gables meets Sherlock Holmes.

Reader’s Annotation:

Eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce decides she must solve the murder of the man found in her cucumber patch to save her father from prison.

Information About the Author:

Born in Toronto Ontario in 1938, Alan Bradley has had a long and varied career as a writer, teacher and media technologist. After attending Ryerson University, Bradley worked as a television engineer in Ontario and Saskatoon (Jessop, 2012). Later, he served for 25 years as the Director of Television Engineering in the media centre at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon.

Bradley has written screenplays and short stories and has taught Script Writing and Television Production Courses at the University of Saskatchewan. He has been involved in the local literary scene. He was the first President of the Saskatoon Writers and a founding member of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. He is also a founding member of The Casebook of Saskatoon, “a society devoted to the study of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockian writings” (Author’s bio, 2013)

Alan Bradley was 70 when he wrote the Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. The story started out as a 15-page excerpt that he had written and submitted to The British Crime Writers’ Association’s Debut Dagger Award, which he won in 2007.

Interestingly, although the novel is set in England, Bradley had not been to England himself until he went to receive his award in 2007. But, he says, he grew up submersed in the English culture through his English grandparents and the English books and magazines he read. He also credits his wife, Shirley, with helping him research the subject (Catto, 2009)

Click here for an interesting conversation between Alan Bradley and Shelagh Rogers about Flavia de Luce and his newest novel, Speaking From Among the Bones.


  • Mystery – detective stories
  • Historical fiction
  • Crossover

Curriculum Ties:

  • Chemistry
  • English
    • Mystery novels
    • Character development

Booktalking Ideas:

  • Read from page 11 as Flavia adds poison ivy oil to her sister’s lipstick
    • Talk about pranks between siblings
  • Read from page 24 when she eavesdrops on her father to finding the dead man

Reading Level/Interest Age:

Challenge Issues:

  • N/A

Why did you include this resource in the titles you selected?:

I do not read detective stories very often but this series has received a lot of press lately. I heard an interview with Alan Bradley a few weeks ago and decided to read it. It was funny, smart, and had a good mystery.


Coon, J. (2009). The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Booklist, 105(17), 35. (star review)

 “Only those who dislike precocious young heroines with extraordinary vocabulary and audacious courage can fail to like this amazingly entertaining book.”

Goldsmith, F. (2009). The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. School Library Journal, 55(5), 140.

“Flavia is brave and true and hilarious, and the murder mystery is clever and satisfying.

The sweetness at the bottom of the pie. (2009). Kirkus Reviews, 77(5), 49.

Brilliant, irresistible and incorrigible, Flavia has a long future ahead of her. Bradley’s mystery debut is a standout chock full of the intellectual asides so beloved by Jonathan Gash readers. It might even send budding sleuths to chemistry classes.


  • 2007 Debut Dagger Award
  • 2009 Agatha Award, Best First Novel
  • 2010 Amelia Bloomer List, Young Adult Fiction
  • 2010 Alex Award nominee
  • 2010 Arthur Ellis Awards, Best First Novel
  • Macavity Awards, Best First Mystery Novel
  • 2010 Best Books for Young Adults


Author’s bio.(2013) Retrieved from http://www.flaviadeluce.com/view-authors-bio/

Catto, S. (2009). Alan Bradley: The old/new face of fiction. Quill & Quire. Retrieved from http://www.quillandquire.com/authors/profile.cfm?article_id=10492

Jessop, P. (2012). Alan Bradley. In The Canadian encyclopedia. Retrieved from