The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Last updated
Sweetness at the Bottom of the pie
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.jpg
Front cover of US/Canada first edition
Author Alan Bradley
Cover artistJoe Montgomery (US)
Country Canada
SeriesFlavia de Luce Mysteries
Genre Mystery
Publisher Orion (UK)
Delacorte Press (US)
Publication date
22 January 2009 (UK)
10 February 2009 (Canada)
28 April 2009 (US)
Media typePrint (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages304 (UK first edition)
384 (US first edition)
ISBN 978-0-385-34230-8 (US)
ISBN   978-0-385-66582-7 (Canada)
ISBN   978-0-7528-9194-1 (UK)
ISBN   978-1-4104-1917-0 (large print)
OCLC 256534817

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is a mystery by Alan Bradley published in 2009. Set in the English countryside in 1950, it features Flavia de Luce, an 11-year-old amateur sleuth who pulls herself away from her beloved chemistry lab in order to clear her father in a murder investigation. Bradley, a first-time novelist, wrote the book after winning the 2007 Debut Dagger Award and selling the publishing rights in three countries, based on the first chapter and a synopsis. Well received by critics as an old-fashioned mystery featuring an unforgettable protagonist, the novel has won multiple awards and is the first in a 10-book series.



As the novel opens, Flavia Sabina de Luce schemes revenge against her two older sisters, Ophelia (17) and Daphne (13), who have locked her inside a closet in Buckshaw, the family's country manor home located in the English village of Bishop's Lacey. Flavia has braces and pigtails like a typical 11-year-old girl, but she is also a brilliant amateur chemist with a specialty in poisons and a fully equipped, personal laboratory on the top floor of her home. With her scientific notebook at the ready, she steals her oldest sister's lipstick, adds poison ivy extract, and then waits, eagerly anticipating changes in Ophelia's complexion. Flavia is especially jealous of her oldest sister because, at 17, she is the only one of the three girls with memories of their mother, Harriet, a free spirit who disappeared on a mountaineering adventure in Tibet 10 years earlier and is presumed dead. Harriet's disappearance devastated their father, Colonel Haviland "Jacko" de Luce, a philatelist and former amateur illusionist who spends most of his time poring over his stamp collection. The family shares their home with loyal retainer Arthur Wellesley Dogger, who once saved Colonel de Luce's life during the war and now works as Buckshaw's gardener, suffering frequent bouts of memory loss and hallucinations due to posttraumatic stress disorder from his time as a prisoner of war.

Mysterious events begin to occur when Mrs. Mullet, Buckshaw's housekeeper and cook, discovers a dead jack snipe on the porch with a Penny Black stamp pierced through its beak. Then, Flavia and Dogger overhear a heated argument between Colonel de Luce and a red-headed stranger who shortly turns up dead in the family cucumber patch. When Colonel de Luce is arrested for the crime, Flavia takes to her bicycle, Gladys, and begins an investigation in the village of Bishop's Lacey, interviewing suspects, gathering clues, and compiling research at the library, always staying ahead of Inspector Hewitt and the police department. As she single-handedly solves the crime, she uncovers the truth behind a 20-year-old apparent suicide at Colonel de Luce's alma mater, Greyminster. The suicide victim, housemaster and Latin scholar Grenville Twining, and the red-headed stranger in the cucumber patch, Horace "Bony" Bonepenny, both uttered "Vale" as a last word. The trail connecting their deaths also includes political intrigue, rare Ulster Avenger stamps, sleight of hand, theft, blackmail, and murder.

Major theme

Bradley describes the theme as "youthful idealism" [1] and how far it can take someone "if it's not stamped out, as it so often is." [1] Thinking back to his own childhood, he identifies with Flavia's 11-year-old zeal, remembering the "feeling of being absolutely unstoppable," [2] capable of anything. He explains, "when you're that age, you sometimes have a great burning enthusiasm that is very deep and very narrow, and that is something that has always intrigued me - that world of the 11-year-old that is so quickly lost." [3] Reviewer Francisca Goldsmith notes this theme as well, suggesting that readers "may come away with a slightly altered view of what is possible for a headstrong girl to achieve." [4]


The writing style in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie has been described as reminiscent of the "Golden Age of crime writing," influenced by the author's appreciation for the work of W. J. Burley, G. K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Josephine Tey. [5] Reviewer Lucy Clark compared Bradley's style to that of Agatha Christie, calling The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie a "delightfully old-fashioned mystery." [6] Kirkus Reviews compared the book's "intellectual asides" to that of Jonathan Gash. [7]

Development history

In the spring of 2006, Bradley had been working on a different book [8] set in the 1950s, when the plot developed to include a detective character arriving at a country house to find a little girl in the driveway, sitting "on a camp stool doing something with a notebook and a pencil." [5] That little girl was Flavia. Bradley explains "she walked onto the page of another book I was writing, and simply hijacked the story." [5] "I can't take any credit for Flavia at all," [9] he says. "She just materialized." [9]

When Bradley's wife heard author Louise Penny, a 2004 Debut Dagger award runner-up, [10] on the radio talking about the British crime-writing competition, [11] she encouraged her husband to enter. [5] She advised him to abandon the original book he had been writing and "send the stuff about the girl on the camp stool," instead. [5] The competition, which is open to anyone who has not yet published a novel commercially, [12] requires would-be novelists to submit the first 3,000 words (or less), along with a 500-1,000 word synopsis. [13] Writing the draft of the first chapter "took Bradley just a couple of days, but he then spent weeks polishing it, only just sneaking the first pages of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie in under the final deadline." [2]

He won the 2007 Debut Dagger "based on a chapter and a synopsis," [14] and "signed a three-book deal with Orion for a crime series centering on 11-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce." [14] Through agent Denise Bukowski, he also auctioned U.S. rights to Bantam Books and Canadian rights to Doubleday Canada, securing three separate three-book deals for a proposed six-book series, based on a 17-page submission. [15] Calling the submission fresh and original, Kristin Cochrane of Doubleday Canada admitted: "we've rarely, if ever bought fiction on so little material." [9] Orion's Bill Massey agreed, remarking that "it was just a chapter, but it was so outstanding that it made me realise he is a real talent, and that he had an idea that could be a really terrific series." [14] Massey further explained that "Flavia just seemed so alive on the page, and her voice was so distinctive and engaging." [9] After Bradley picked up the Dagger award in London on his first trip to England, the Canadian author took a few weeks off and then "sat down and wrote Sweetness in seven months flat." [2]


Critics almost universally praised the novel upon its publication, primarily citing the compelling character portrayal of 11-year-old lead detective, Flavia de Luce. Reviewers have called Flavia brilliant, [7] [16] bold, [16] irresistible, [7] incorrigible, [7] precocious, [16] [17] [18] adorable, [16] and unique. [18] For Canadian Literature, Beverly Haun wrote "Flavia is a gem of a character; her precocity offset by her emotional vulnerability makes a winning combination." [19] Marilyn Stasio for The New York Times Book Review agreed, proclaiming Flavia "impressive as a sleuth and enchanting as a mad scientist," but "most endearing as a little girl who has learned how to amuse herself in a big lonely house." [20] Reviewer Paula Todd for The Globe and Mail (Canada), however, was not impressed. Calling Flavia "too much of a caricature to appeal to the subtlety-seeking adult mystery reader," she declared the language "often tedious" and the references "too obscure" for younger readers. [21] Todd wrote "the burning question a few chapters in is not whodunit, but who wants to read it? To whom, exactly, is this book meant to appeal?" [21] Other reviewers have noted strong appeal to a wide range of readers. Michele Leber for Library Journal noted "appeal for cozy lovers and well beyond" [18] while Francisca Goldsmith for School Library Journal suggested "mystery fans, Anglophiles, and science buffs will delight" [4] in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. Judy Coon for Booklist insisted "only those who dislike precocious young heroines with extraordinary vocabulary and audacious courage can fail to like this amazingly entertaining book." [17]

Awards and nominations

Agatha Award, Best First Novel2009Winner [22]
Alex Award 2010Nominated [23]
Amelia Bloomer List, Young Adult Fiction2010Among 18 winners [24]
Anthony Award, Best First Novel2010Nominated [25]
Arthur Ellis Awards, Best First Novel2010Winner [26]
Barry Award, Best First Novel2010Winner [27]
Debut Dagger Award2007Winner [11]
Dilys Award 2010Winner [28]
Macavity Awards, Best First Mystery Novel2010Winner [29]
Spotted Owl Award2010Winner [30]
YALSA Best Books for Young Adults2010Among 90 winners [31]
YRCA, Senior Division2012Nominated

Related Research Articles

RELX is a British multinational information and analytics company headquartered in London, England. Its businesses provide scientific, technical and medical information and analytics; legal information and analytics; decision-making tools; and organise exhibitions. It operates in 40 countries and serves customers in over 180 nations. It was previously known as Reed Elsevier, and came into being in 1992 as a result of the merger of Reed International, a British trade book and magazine publisher, and Elsevier, a Netherlands-based scientific publisher.

<i>The Time Travelers Wife</i> 2003 novel by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's Wife is the debut novel by the American author Audrey Niffengger, published in 2003. It is a love story about Henry, a man, with a genetic disorder that causes him to time travel unpredictably, and about Clare, his wife, an artist, who has to cope with his frequent absences and dangerous experiences of reappearing in odd places. Niffenegger, who was frustrated in love when she began the novel, wrote the story as a metaphor for her failed relationships. The tale's central relationship came to Niffenegger suddenly and subsequently supplied the novel's title. The novel, which has been classified as both science fiction and romance, examines the themes of love, loss, and free will. In particular, the novel uses time travel to explore miscommunication and distance in relationships, while also investigating deeper existential questions.

Elizabeth Kostova American writer

Elizabeth Johnson Kostova is an American author best known for her debut novel The Historian.

<i>The Historian</i> 2005 novel by Elizabeth Kostova

The Historian is the 2005 debut novel of American author Elizabeth Kostova. The plot blends the history and folklore of Vlad Țepeș and his fictional equivalent Count Dracula. Kostova's father told her stories about Dracula when she was a child, and later in life she was inspired to turn the experience into a novel. She worked on the book for ten years and then sold it within a few months to Little, Brown and Company, which bought it for US$2 million.

Typhoon Mike Pacific typhoon in 1990

Typhoon Mike, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Ruping, of 1990 was the strongest typhoon to hit the Philippines since Typhoon Irma in 1981. Forming from an area of persistent convection over the Caroline Islands, Mike was first designated on November 6, 1990 and moved generally westward. Later that day, the depression strengthened to Tropical Storm Mike near Yap. Mike became a typhoon early on November 9, and subsequently entered a period of rapid deepening. Late on November 10, the typhoon reached its maximum intensity of 115 mph (185 km/h), as estimated by the Japanese Meteorological Agency. After weakening slightly, Mike made landfall in the central Philippines, after weakening slightly. The storm weakened considerably due to land interaction, only to briefly re-intensify on November 14. Typhoon Mike turned west-northwest and later north-northwest, avoiding land interaction with Vietnam. Vertical wind shear increased, and on November 15, Mike weakened below typhoon intensity. Early the next day, the storm passed over western Hainan Island, and degraded to a tropical depression that night. After briefly emerging into the Gulf of Tonkin, Mike passed over Northern Vietnam and southern China, where it dissipated on November 18.

Typhoon Ike Pacific typhoon in 1984

Typhoon Ike was the second deadliest tropical cyclone in the 20th century in the Philippines, where it was known as Typhoon Nitang. Ike originated from an area of disturbed weather southeast of Guam on August 21, 1984, and five days later, developed into a tropical depression. Following an increase in organization, the depression attained tropical storm intensity on August 27. Initially tracking west-southwest, the storm gradually gained strength as wind shear resulted relaxed and Ike became a typhoon on August 30. Continuing to rapidly intensity, Ike turned west and attained peak intensity on September 1, with the Japan Meteorological Agency estimating winds of 170 km/h (105 mph). At around 14:00 UTC that day, Ike made landfall on the northeastern tip of Mindanao. The cyclone emerged into the South China Sea on September 3 as a tropical storm before re-intensifying into a typhoon and moving onshore Hainan. Ike then struck the Chinese mainland as a tropical storm in the Guangxi province and dissipated on September 6.

Kenneth Martin Edwards is a British crime novelist, whose work has won awards in the UK and the United States. As a crime fiction critic and historian, and also in his career as a solicitor, he has written non-fiction books and many articles. He is the current President of the Detection Club and in 2020 was awarded the Crime Writers’ Association’s Diamond Dagger, the highest honour in British crime writing, in recognition of the ‘sustained excellence’ of his work in the genre.

Martin Davies is a British author. His most recent work includes Havana Sleeping (2014), The Year After (2011), The Unicorn Road (2009),and a book about Joseph Banks and the Mysterious Bird of Ulieta, entitled The Conjuror's Bird (2005). He is also the author of three mystery novels about Sherlock Holmes' housekeeper Mrs. Hudson: Mrs. Hudson and the Spirits' Curse (2004), Mrs. Hudson and the Malabar Rose (2005), and Mrs. Hudson and the Lazarus Testament (2015).

Flavia (name) Name list

Flavia is an Ancient Roman name meaning “blonde” from the Latin word “flavus”, meaning “golden, blonde”. It is a feminine form of the Roman family name Flavius. The name is most commonly used in Italy, Romania, Brazil and in Spanish-speaking countries. It is rarely used in the United States, but was given to 11 newborn American girls in 2010 and 12 American girls born in 2011.

The CWA Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction is a British literary award established in 1978 by the Crime Writers' Association, who have awarded the Gold Dagger fiction award since 1955.

Typhoon Ruby (1988) Pacific typhoon in 1988

Typhoon Ruby, known in the Philippines as Typhoon Unsang, was the strongest typhoon to strike the Philippines in 18 years. The tenth typhoon of the 1988 Pacific typhoon season, Ruby formed from an area of low pressure situated east of the Philippines on October 20. The storm steadily intensified as it moved west, and then west-northwest. After developing an eye, Ruby attained typhoon intensity on October 23 and began to strengthen at a brisker clip. Ruby reached maximum intensity later that day, before moving ashore along the central portion of Luzon early on October 24. The storm steadily weakened over land and this trend only continued after Ruby entered the South China Sea. On October 27, Ruby made a second landfall as a tropical storm on Hainan Island before dissipating the next day.

Bill Cameron (mystery author) American author

Bill Cameron is an American author.

Alan Bradley is a Canadian mystery writer known for his Flavia de Luce series, which began with the acclaimed The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

Bouchercon is an annual convention of creators and devotees of mystery and detective fiction. It is named in honour of writer, reviewer, and editor Anthony Boucher; also the inspiration for the Anthony Awards, which have been issued at the convention since 1986. This page details Bouchercon XLI and the 25th Anthony Awards ceremony.

Mick Herron

Mick Herron is a British mystery and thriller novelist, winner of the Crime Writers' Association 2013 Gold Dagger award for Dead Lions.

Pierre Lemaitre

Pierre Lemaitre is a Prix Goncourt-winning French author and a screenwriter, internationally renowned for the crime novels featuring the fictional character Commandant Camille Verhœven.

Cyclone Joy Storm that hit Australia in late 1990

Severe Tropical Cyclone Joy struck Australia in late 1990, causing the third highest floods on record in Rockhampton, Queensland. This cyclone began as a weak tropical low near the Solomon Islands, and initially moved westward. On 18 December, it was named Joy, becoming the 2nd named storm of the 1990–91 Australian region cyclone season. After turning southwest, Joy developed a well-defined eye and strengthened to maximum sustained winds of 165 km/h (103 mph) while approaching Cairns in Far North Queensland. Brushing the city with strong winds, the cyclone soon weakened and turned southeast. Joy later curved back southwest, making landfall near Townsville, Queensland on 26 December. It dissipated the next day; remnant moisture continued as torrential rainfall over Queensland for two weeks.

Girl detective is a genre of detective fiction featuring a young, often teen-aged, female protagonist who solves crimes as a hobby.

The Coroner is M.R. Hall's first novel. It was published by PanMacmillan in 2009, and became the first in a series based around the fictional Jenny Cooper, a former solicitor appointed as coroner in the 'Severn Vale District'.

Claire Askew is a Scottish novelist and poet.


  1. 1 2 Richards, Linda L. (11 February 2009). "Author Snapshot: Alan Bradley". January Magazine . Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 Morrow, Fiona (14 February 2009). "At 70 a Novelist Is Born". The Globe and Mail . Canada. LexisNexis Academic (subscription required). Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  3. Lynch, Brian (26 February 2009). "On the Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Q&A with Author Alan Bradley". The Georgia Straight . Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  4. 1 2 Goldsmith, Francisca (May 2009). "Review of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley". School Library Journal . Academic Search Premier, EBSCOhost (subscription required). 55 (5): 140. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 "Interview: Alan Bradley, Author of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie". Material Witness. 7 February 2009. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  6. Clark, Lucy (22 February 2009). "Enjoy the Flavia of Bradley's Pie". Sunday Telegraph . Australia. LexisNexis Academic (subscription required). Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  7. 1 2 3 4 "Review of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley". Kirkus Reviews . Academic Search Premier, EBSCO host (subscription required). 77 (5): 49. March 2009. Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  8. "Author Spotlight: Alan Bradley". Random House. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  9. 1 2 3 4 Medley, Mark (14 March 2009). "The Sweetness Found Him: How Alan Bradley Secured a Six-Book Deal and Sold His Mystery Series about a Precocious 11-year-old in 19 Countries". National Post . Canada. LexisNexis Academic (subscription required). Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  10. "2004 Daggers". The Crime Writers' Association. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  11. 1 2 "2007 Dagger Awards". The Crime Writers' Association. 20 March 2011. Archived from the original on 20 March 2011. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  12. "The CWA Debut Dagger". The Crime Writers' Association. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  13. "How to Enter the Debut Dagger". The Crime Writers' Association. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  14. 1 2 3 "Orion Signs Debut Dagger Winner". Bookseller. Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts (subscription required) (5292): 13. 3 August 2007. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  15. Thornton, Matthew (16 July 2007). "Deals". Publishers Weekly . 254 (28). Library, Information Science & Technology Abstracts (subscription required). p. 12. Retrieved 15 February 2011.
  16. 1 2 3 4 Memmott, Carol (21 May 2009). "Mysteries/Thrillers". USA Today. Academic Search Premier, EBSCO host (subscription required). Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  17. 1 2 Coon, Judy (May 2009). "Review of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley". Booklist . 105 (17): 35 via Academic Search Premier, EBSCO host (subscription required). Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  18. 1 2 3 Leber, Michele (15 April 2009). "Review of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley". Library Journal . 134 (7): 89 via Academic Search Premier, EBSCO host (subscription required). Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  19. Haun, Beverly. "Forms and Function." Canadian Literature 203 (Winter 2009): p. 127. Academic OneFile, Gale (subscription required). Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  20. Stasio, Marilyn. "Mourning Paper." The New York Times Book Review (24 May 2009): 22. Academic Search Premier, EBSCO host (subscription required). Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  21. 1 2 Todd, Paula. "Too Much Crust, Not Enough Filling?" The Globe and Mail (Canada) (14 February 2009). LexisNexis Academic (subscription required). Retrieved 1 February 2011.
  22. Malice Domestic Archived 2017-01-21 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  23. 2010 Alex Award Nominations List Retrieved 10 March 2011.
  24. Amelia Bloomer Project Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  25. Bouchercon World Mystery Convention Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  26. "Arthur Ellis Awards: 2010 Winners". Crime Writers of Canada. Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  27. "Barry Awards". Stop, You're Killing Me!. Retrieved 12 March 2011.
  28. "Independent Mystery Booksellers Association". 12 April 2010. Archived from the original on 12 April 2010. Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  29. "Mystery Readers International". Retrieved 2 February 2011.
  30. "Friends of Mystery". Retrieved 12 March 2011.
  31. "YALSA Best Books for Young Adults". Retrieved 2 February 2011.