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broodings from the burrow

April 7, 2011

streetside, happenstance, and before the storm
posted by soe 8:58 pm

We can now look back on three beautiful things from the first week in April:

1. The lovely spring weather permits outdoor meals with friends this week. Sunday I eat crêpes with Phillip, Susan, and Holden. And Wednesday I have Thai food with Amani and Sarah.

2. We run up to Politics and Prose to collect my Jasper Fforde novel and walk in on an author talk. It turns out to be Jacqueline Winspear, whose Maisie Dobbs series has intrigued me since we saw a Masterpiece production of one of the novels a few years back. I leave with a signed edition of the first book in the series.

3. Rudi and I bike to the Tidal Basin after work on Monday to catch the cherry blossoms before they disappear. Although the trees on the Mall side are a bit past peak, the ones by FDR are glorious and we walk a leisurely loop as the sun sets over Virginia. A large storm moves through early Tuesday morning and a drive past after work suggests we captured the last really perfect day for the trees.

How about you? What’s been beautiful in your world this week?

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into the stacks: the sweetness at the bottom of the pie
posted by soe 12:40 am

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

From the jacket: “In his wickedly brilliant first novel, Debut Dagger Award winner Alan Bradley introduces one of the most singular and engaging heroines in recent fiction: eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. It is the summer of 1950 — and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia’s family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw. ‘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.’

My take: Nestled outside of the village of Bishop Lacey sits the manor house of Buckshaw. Its inhabitants include the absent-minded widower (and avid philatelist) Colonel de Luce; his three somewhat annoying daughters, Daphne, Ophelia, and Flavia; and the Colonel’s factotum, Dogger, who suffers from the occasional bout of PTSD, stemming from the war. The story centers around the precocious youngest daughter, Flavia, who is a budding scientist, as was her mother, Harriet, who died while Flavia was quite young but whose presence still looms large around the estate.

The same curiosity and attention to detail that serve Flavia in her experiments prove useful when unusual events start to occur. First, a dead bird is left on the doorstep with an unusual stamp pierced by its beak. Then a stranger is overheard arguing with her father in his study late at night. Finally, she discovers a man dying in the garden.

When the police arrest Flavia’s father for the man’s murder, it is up to his youngest, know-it-all child to piece together a complete story from random facts, odd scientific know-how, and bits of 30-year-old stories from the Colonel and other residents of Bishop Lacey. But will the truth be revealed before it’s too late for the de Luce family?

I guess it would be fair to say I liked this book, but I found the heroine to be more than a little annoying. Perhaps she cut a little close to home in some of her attributes? Nonetheless, there was something gripping about Flavia’s tenacious quest for the truth, her overtly ambitious quest to be the person to solve the mystery, and her deductive grasp of facts. And it was impossible to read the story without being at least occasionally affected by the competition between the three girls for their father’s rare attention and their desperate desire to find an expression of love in their emotionally stunted lives.

I offer a tentative endorsement of the book. If you like other self-absorbed sleuths (Poirot and Holmes spring immediately to mind), I feel Flavia will suit you well. I liked it well enough that I will probably read the second book in the series, but not so much that I will run right out to request it.

Pages: 373

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