The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie, Alan Bradley (2009)

An arch and enquiring girl entertainingly pedals around a mid-century Cotswoldian scene solving dastardly crimes old and new

Orion 9780752883212 paperback 363 pp

Flavia de Luce is a precocious eleven-year-old chemistry enthusiast, who lives with her gothically odd family in a manor house in 1950s Englandshire. She traverses the surrounding countryside on Gladys – a BSA three-speed bicycle that she inherited from her mother. And, when faced with a dead stranger in the cucumber patch, for whose murder her father is arrested, she rises to the occasion magnificently.

In no sense is this a ‘cycling novel’, save that Gladys sees a great deal of action, as the plot develops. It is a highly enjoyable caper, nonetheless, particularly if you are tantalised by the idea of ‘traditional village life’ as existed in some bucolic neverland.

To give you a flavour, here is Flavia taking flight.

“As I raced home, past the leaning, moss-covered headstones in the heaped up churchyard of St Tancred’s, through the narrow, leafy lanes, across the chalky High Road into the open country, I let Gladys have her head, swooping down the slopes past the rushing hedges, imagining all the while that I was the pilot of one of the Spitfires which, just five years ago had skimmed these very hedgerows like swallows as they came in to land at Leathcote.”

As with John Buchan’s dictum, chance and happenstance are pushed to the outer limits of probability, via some engaging explorations of chemistry, philately, English public schools and pre-pubescent cattishness. It is neither dark, nor challenging.

The character, about who a series of novels is promised – would make basis for a Sunday-night, chocolate-box drama, in the mode of Larkrise to Heatbeart Great and Small. As and entertainment, however, it is all the more enjoyable for Bradly not having felt it necessary to shock or sicken.

Lets hope that that Flavia pedals her BSA on into episode two.

PS Feb 10

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