If poisons were ponies, I'd put my money on cyanide.
Move over Nancy Drew, there's a new sleuth in town. A savvy chemist with a penchant for poison, Flavia de Luce balks at danger and loves nothing more than being knee deep in a good mystery. Oh, and she's eleven. Don't let her age fool you into thinking this is a novel for children; this one's for your grownup inner Nancy or Hardy boy.
I fell for Flavia in the first chapter. Mourning a mother she's never known, with a distracted, grieving father and two older sisters who make Cinderella's look benign, Flavia would be left to fend for herself if it weren't for Dogger, her father's factotum—or in non-lovely-British-speak, general servant. How I love Dogger. And Mrs. Mullett, the family's bumbling cook, who is "short and gray and round as a millstone and who....[thinks] of herself as a character in a poem by A. A. Milne."
A dead bird with a postage stamp pinned to its beak is found on the doorstep of Buckshaw, the family's rundown English estate, and within hours, Flavia finds a man, near death, lying in their cucumber patch. He whispers something before taking his last breath, and just like that, Flavia has a bona fide mystery on her hands.
It also marks the beginning of her mostly love, sometimes hate, relationship with Inspector Hewitt, who starts things off badly when he dares ask Flavia to "rustle up" some tea for he and his detectives, rather than assist in the investigation. "So that was it. As at birth, so at death. Without so much as a kiss-me-quick-and-mind-the-marmalade, the only female in sight is enlisted to trot off and see that the water is boiled."
If you've yet to encounter Alan Bradley's The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, you are in for a treat. And the treats don't stop there, Bradley has served up seven more Flavia tales over the past six years. This man, who didn't get started until he was 70 (yes, 70!), is on a roll. Asked how he came to be a 70-year-old first time novelist, he responded: "Well, the Roman author Seneca once said something like this: 'Hang on to your youthful enthusiasms--you’ll be able to use them better when you’re older.' So to put it briefly, I’m taking his advice." Apparently, I have years to finish my own novel. To quote Flavia, "Yaroo!"
While I love some books in the series more than others, Flavia has found a constant fan in me.