A perfect book to follow on from Inner Child reading but first you all know how hot under the collar I get about books being published in Canada that I can't get hold of.
It's one of life's great injustices that there is no Canadian Book Depository sending to the UK post-free. I know KevinFromCanada is going to reveal the best ways to buy Canadian books any day soon but when I heard about The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Canadian author Alan Bradley I wanted it yesterday.
How fortunate then that Orion have just published it here in the UK, sparing me a whole lot of anguish and now I discover that we actually got the book before Canada so I'd better stop whingeing.
The book had already won the Crime Writer's Association Debut Dagger, a pre-publication prize for the best first crime novel so I was on its trail and thrilled to discover this is the first of a series of six because it's ace, absolutely top drawer, funny verging on hilarious as eleven-year old detective Flavia de Luce unravels the mystery of the body found in her father's cucumber patch.
Now here's the interesting bit.
Remember all the hoo-ha about Stef Penney's book The Tenderness of Wolves?
How on earth could someone write convincingly about Canada when they had never been there?
Well enter stage east, Alan Bradley who writes as convincingly about 1950s England as to the manor born having apparently not set foot here until he came to collect his Debut Dagger in 2007. Well it doesn't show and thus speaks one who was born into it (though not in a manor) so ringing endorsements to Alan Bradley from this Coronation-year baby.
I was instantly reminded of the set-up familiar to anyone who has read I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and the eccentric, remote and emotionally distant widowed father raising daughters in a stately pile which brought to mind Cassandra Mortmain, but the similarities stop there, Flavia is her own girl and I loved her.
Fiesty and hilarious, Flavia waltzes precociously but not annoyingly so through the adult world with intelligent and logical panache, her risk assessments are those to be expected of an eleven-year old so Flavia boldly strides or cycles forth (on a bike called Gladys) where her instinct leads. Her investigations ably assisted by a dangerous knowledge of the world of chemistry and a fully equipped Victorian laboratory on the top floor of the east wing inherited from Uncle Tarquin. Older sisters Ophelia and Daphne frequently have to resort to desperate measures to keep one step ahead of their little sister and usually fail. Flavia is worryingly well-versed in the chemical constituents of the most lethal poisons and as a
'long-range planner who believed in letting the soup of revenge simmer to perfection'
capable of the most dastardly forms of retribution as Ophelia discovers to her cost with her lipstick.
Not quite the safest lipstick in the world after it's been through Flavia's laboratory.
The first-person narrative is exquisite, page after page had me laughing at the sheer brilliance of the setting and the dialogue and Flavia's unique turn of phrase whilst also thinking what a nightmare she would have been to parent, the variety of child we describe as eleven going on eighteen, no wonder her father stays in his study examining his stamp collection.
But the voice is unique and original and unlike anything else I've read for a long time and I gather each in the series will focus on a lost aspect of English life which will suit all us nostalging types perfectly. This first offering a great foundation on which to grow the next and a perfectly lovely gorgeous read over several grey chilly Winter afternoons.