Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

Do forgive Miss Lemon if she seems to be hopping on the Alan Bradley bandwagon. But it was the title that drew her to this sassy sleeper from 2009.

That clever turn of phrase -- The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie -- comes from William King's The Art of Cookery, published in 1708:
Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie,
Who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?
Catchy, isn't it?

Indeed, the cover sets one to thinking about pies and crusts and even jack snipes, poisons and postage stamps, which are just the points on which this mystery turns.

Miss Lemon found many things to like about this novel and its heroine-cum-detective, Flavia de Luce. She is smart, for starters. Preternaturally so. But Miss Lemon was more than willing to suspend her disbelief for an eleven year old so well read and culturally astute as to remark that Beethoven sounds as if he cribbed all of his piano works from Mozart and that in a perfect world, the Bishop's Lacey library would be open 24/7. Did she mention that Miss de Luce also maintains a sophisticated laboratory and not only has the periodic table memorized, but also owns a first edition of Richard Mead's A Mechanical Account of Poisons in Several Essays (1702)?

Flavia de Luce is also resourceful. And not in the least squeamish -- of rats, of heights, of bullying pub owners, or of creepy philatelists. She is plucky almost to a fault.

By the same token, Miss Lemon found a few things she did not like in The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. A protracted and borderline-violent confrontation with the killer made Miss Lemon think that perhaps Mr. Bradley takes too liberal an interpretation of the conventions of cosy crime fiction (see six rules for cosy writing on Mysterious Matters).

He also overdoes it with the metaphors. Readers will be treated to at least one in every paragraph, and sometimes more. Sometimes many more. This will irritate some of Miss Lemon's followers, she fears. But on the whole, many of the metaphors do as Aristotle dictates: they help the reader to see some emotion or action or sense differently by extracting some essential essence by way of the comparison. Those metaphors that don't live up to this standard could have been edited out.

But these are two small quibbles in what is an otherwise highly enjoyable mystery with a gratifyingly original heroine. Miss Lemon has already placed The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag high on her to-read pile. (It's the title again!)

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the fantastic link - and thanks for following my blog, I have some little awards there for you: