The sweetness at the bottom of the pie: A Flavia De Luce Mystery – Alan Bradley

I don’t remember how i came across this series, but within a few pages i was hooked and by the end of the first book, i was in love. I love our eleven year old sleuth (by accident), who is irreverent and innocent all at the same time. Alan Bradley is my hero for creating this little genius detective. These books are funny, heart breaking, great plots all rolled into one.

Flavia lives in Buckshaw with her two older sisters – Ophelia (Feely) and Daphne (Daff), her father, fathers general dogsbody (Dogger) and housekeeper cum cook Mrs Mullet. Her mother, Harriet, who everyone seems to love died in an accident when she was one.

“Their combined age totalled thirty years. Thirty years! – against my eleven. It was not only unsporting, it was downright rotten. And it simply screamed out for revenge” perfectly defines the relationship between the three sisters. Flavia, a self taught genius chemistry geek is also perpetually in motion and boundlessly curious about everything – especially dead bodies. “My particular passion was poison” – oh yeah! our detective here is quite blood thirsty by nature and hates being treated like a child (more so than anything else)

Flavia’s first encounter with a dead body was downright funny “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.” She find a dead body in the garden in early hours of the morning and takes umbrage when the police (probably rightfully so) asks her to stay inside and send out some tea.

With her curious mind, Flavia could not stop herself from asking questions, seeking out people and uncovering clues after clues towards the identity of the killer – who is closely related to her father and his school life. She, especially spurs into action when police takes her father into custody as a potential suspect for murder. Her sisters are wailing at home, and Flavia on her own initiative, lands at the prison, manages to negotiate a deal with the Inspector to let her visit her father. For the first time in her life, (as per her) father confides in his youngest daughter about some of the past and associations, which could be related to the event. “There was nothing else to do but to burst into tears. I hated to do it, but it was the only tool that i had with me.”

Between analysing the chemicals in her pristine, state of the art laboratory (inherited from ancestors) and analysing the past, we find Flavia making herself a general nuisance and always a step ahead of the police. In the end she manages to uncover the great mystery, at the cost of being abducted and left tied up in a dark pit.

The writing is rich and arresting, with the expressions and feelings laid bare for the reader to feel what characters are feeling. “I was Flavia. And i loved myself, even if no one else did.” At times, the confusions, the loneliness and need for affection is so raw in this girl, that it is heart breaking and then the next moment, she is on to something so convoluted that it would have you roaring with laughter. “If there is a thing i truly despise, it is being addressed as ‘dearie’. When i write my magnum opus, A Treatise Upon All Poisons, and come to ‘Cyanide’, i am going to put under ‘Uses’ the phrase: ‘Particularly efficacious in the cure of those who call one ‘Dearie’.”

Chemistry has never been my favourite subject, throughout my life and yet i managed to learn a few things from Flavia. I adored reading her cynicism, manipulation and innocence and cheered for her when she came out the winner.

 

 

 

The Word is Murder – Anthony Horowitz

“Mr. Tibbs is the reason everything happened, Tony. If it hadn’t been for him, Mrs Cowper might never have been killed. And nor would her son.”

This line pretty much describes the entire mystery in the book and trust me, even if i tell you that Mr. Tibbs is a cat, you still wouldn’t have a clue until the very end. That my dear fellow readers, is the beauty of Anthony Horowitz’s writing. Just as an aside, if i could, i would steal all his ideas. I love the innovative plots in his books – either he is an editor for a mystery book, thus setting a plot in a plot, or like in this one he is the writer following a detective around trying to weave a book around the real world.

“Diana Cowper had planned her funeral and she was going to need it. She was murdered six hours later that same day.”

With these opening lines, the author had me hooked – I don’t know anyone who would arrange their own funeral details, so this bit intrigued me – a lot – what kind of people do that?!? OCDs, lonely or crazy? Hawthorne, consultant detective on the case reaches out to an author, asking him to write a book about the actual murder investigation. Poor book author, who has only ever written or solved fictional murders, finds himself in the middle of an extremely frustrating and dangerous murder plot.

Abrasive detective and puzzled or rather intrigued author make an incredibly  entertaining duo. Author trying his amateur hand at investigation leaving the detective bristling and annoyed provides the reader with funny banter. There are many leads , as expected, towards the potential murderer along with a rather jealous police office to deal with. Imagine this Рour dear author who is also a script writer is in a meeting with Peter Jackson and Steven Spielberg (oh! how i would have loved to be proverbial fly on the wall in this fictional meeting) and the sleuth, cool as cucumber walks in, not only to interrupt them, but to remind the author that the funeral is more important than his meeting Hah!

Plot thickens as an old accident comes to light. Diana Cowper had run down two little boys by her car, because she forgot her glasses at the golf club and was let go with a slap on the wrist. Parents lost one boy and were left to deal with the second one, alive but with damaged brain. Talk about motive – this one seemed pretty solid to me, almost until the end. Then there is the daughter in law, with only nice things to say in every conversation, but even a blind person could see her struggling against a controlling mother in law and a selfish husband.

Like any other well written whodunnit, the most innocuous seeming character is the psychopath and mastermind behind the murders – oh yes! Diana Cowper is soon followed by her son into the heavenly abode. The reason is as crazy as you can expect – won’t tell you, so as not to spoil the surprise! There are moments of dark humour in the book, that are simply outstanding. All in all, an excellent book to carry with you to the beach. Kudos Anthony Horowitz and keep them coming.