Sunday sleuth

I have a new fictional sleuth that I like very much. Her name is Flavia de Luce, she’s an amateur chemist, and she’s eleven years old. In inter-war Britain, she keeps her head about her when a dead body is found in the cucumber patch. She’s the undisputed star of Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, which is very, very accomplished for a first novel. Flavia has charisma and a voice, which is pretty much all you need to sustain an at least readable mystery series. Heck, some people manage to crank out a dozen whodunits without crafting a remotely interesting or sympathetic protagonist.

I must note that Bradley falls into a very common trap for mystery authors in that, when the culprit is revealed, the air goes out of the narrative. Bradley resorts to fairly standard time-wasting tactics that allow Flavia time to run through the hows and whys of the crime, and I found myself growing increasingly impatient during that stretch. This failing is in no way specific to Bradley, and I’m having trouble thinking of more than a handful authors that evade it with regularity. Elizabeth Peters comes to mind, but she has an ensemble of quirky talkers in her Amelia Peabody novels, and I find that she never tries my patience with drawn-out, sleuth-in-peril vamping.

Still, Flavia, with her fascination with poisons and impatience with adult condescension, seems like she has real staying power. She could probably use an entourage of her own, as with Peabody, but she seems able to do a lot of heavy lifting on her own.

5 Responses to Sunday sleuth

  1. Robin B. says:

    You just reminded me that I want to read this, and now that there’s an opening in my reading list, I just ordered it from the library. So thanks! I’ve heard great things about it for months now.

  2. davidpwelsh says:

    Hope you like it! I have a weakness for pre-teen mad scientists, obviously.

  3. Sadie says:

    That’s why I like Japanese mysteries. They tend to reveal whodunnit pretty quickly but then go on to allow the characters to deal with the how and why and what does this mean for the rest of us that Western mysteries tend to just leave out. Still, I’m a sucker for any mystery, especially kid detectives.

    Have you ever read Lulu Dark can see Through Walls?

  4. David Welsh says:

    I never have read that, but I’ll keep it on the list. Have you read any of the Kindaichi Case Files manga from Tokyopop? They devote a lot of time to the how and why; sometimes as much as half of the volume will be dedicated to the details of the crime or crimes.

  5. Sadie says:

    No, I’ll definitely have to read that. They always looks interesting but kind of kidish. Not that I don’t like kid stuff but it tends to end up at the bottom of the stack!

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