Cosy crime and Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

6218281Until earlier this year, I was a fan of cosy crime who’d never heard the phrase ‘cosy crime’. How had I managed that? Fortunately, I was introduced to the phrase on a visit to my lovely neighbourhood bookshop – The Wallingford Bookshop – and, in so doing, was given a recommendation that led to the discovery of a whole new world of cosiness and crime.

Alan Bradley’s series, featuring crime-fighting eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, aspiring chemist, poison afficionado and the youngest daughter roaming the halls at crumbling country pile, Buckshaw, is an absolute delight.

Flavia is everything that you could possibly want from a heroine. She’s smart, sassy and fearless. In The Sweetness At The Bottom Of The Pie she solves the mysterious connection between a dead body in the cucumber patch and a postage stamp impaled on the beak of a dead Jack Snipe armed only with her bicycle, Gladys, and her deceased Uncle Tarquin’s well-stocked chemistry laboratory.

In Buckshaw, and nearby village Bishop’s Lacey, Bradley has created a world more English than England could ever have been. In fact, so picture-perfect is his evocation that it didn’t come as too much of a surprise to discover that Bradley himself is Canadian. He visited England for the first time aged 69, but as a child in his grandparent’s house he developed a passionate love for England by devouring books, magazines and periodicals on all things English. His vision in the Flavia de Luce series is untainted by reality; it’s as if he can feel a particularly pure form of nostalgia because his England is a memory of stories and not personal experiences.

I found myself totally lost in his world and a little sad to think that I wasn’t reading about real places. Would that I could pay a visit to Bishop Lacey’s Free Library where:

“…a warren of decaying outbuildings, like tombstones clustered round a country church, subsided into the long grass between the old showroom and the abandoned towpath that followed the river. Several of these dirt-floored hovels housed the overflow of books from the library’s long-gone and much larger Georgian predecessor. Makeshift structures that had once been a cluster of motor repair shops now found their interiors home to row upon row of unwanted books, their subjects labelled above them…Still reeking of antique motor oil, rust and primitive water closets, these wooden garages were called the stacks…”

Sweetness is the first in a series of books featuring Flavia. The latest, As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust, is due out on the 6th January 2015.


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