Tag Archives: mystery novel

“The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: a Flavia DeLuce Novel” by Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: A Flavia de Luce Mystery

I’m glad that I chanced upon Book 1 of this series, which now includes ten novels. Flavia de Luce is a delightful young heroine. Her absent minded and distracted family ignore the fact that Flavia has a passion for chemistry and, particularly, for chemical poisons. Their house is big enough that her laboratory is delightfully private. When a stranger is murdered in the garden, Flavia’s curiosity and scientific knowledge lead her to investigate.

Unexpectedly, she learns that her widowed father carries a burden of guilt and regret that almost shatters his life.

I appreciate the fact that Bradley writes about someone who loves chemistry and ISN’T a hopeless weirdo! I studied chemistry, and understand the appeal of things that sizzle and change color. I wish I’d had more chances to fool around in a laboratory like Flavia’s!

I plan to download the next novel in the series for my upcoming train trip. Just right!

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“Arsenic with Austen” by Katherine Bolger Hyde

I finally found fiction to relax with! Wait, I shouldn’t say it that way… The heroine is a Professor of English (at Reed College in Oregon, no less) and she would disapprove of a preposition at the end of a sentence.

Emily Cavanaugh is an appealing protagonist, and the frequent literary references (ranging from the Old Testament to JK Rowling) in this mystery amused me. When stressed, Emily retreats into the worlds of Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope. When confronted with murder, she relies on Dorothy Sayers. Emily is a bibliophile who suffers from a level of technophobia even worse than my own. She would never condescend to blog. Horrors! Such an ugly neologism!

Two of the themes of this book are old grudges and land development. It works. There’s romance, too.

This is Ms. Bolger’s first novel and I look forward to more. She is calling her series “Crime with the Classics”. I don’t think she can go wrong.

The Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte Mysteries by Arthur Upfield

I’ve been on a re-reading jag, and this series, published between 1930 and 1963, was a pleasure to revisit. If you are a mystery fan, check out Arthur Upfield. His novels will also appeal to those who love

  • Anthropology
  • Geography/geology/ecology
  • Travel (Australia)

The books I re-read were

  • The Mountains Have a Secret
  • Sinister Stones
  • The Bushman Who Came Back

What is a man named Napoleon Bonaparte doing in Australia? Upfield’s detective hero is (in the words of his time), a half breed, son of an aboriginal woman and a European father, raised and educated to take full advantage of the wisdom of two highly divergent cultures. The capstone of his education was a three year period when he “went bush”, living off the land and becoming an initiated member of his mother’s tribe.

The interactions between these two cultures sets the framework for Upfield’s plots. The stunning, strange Australian landscape provides the background. And Upfield creates wonderful, eccentric characters.

Detective Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte always gets his man. (If he created a female criminal, I’ve missed her.) Along the way, he breaks rules, takes chances and uses mysterious aboriginal wisdom.

If you want to get happily and completely lost in a book, try Upfield. But I’m warning you, the urge to max out your credit card and travel to Australia RIGHT NOW may be overwhelming!

“Still Life: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel” by Louise Penny

This mystery, part of a series (I don’t know how many books), takes place in Canada, and is highly atmospheric. The plot was overly complex for my taste, but I enjoyed the characters. One assumption was that a painting can convey a complex (accusatory) message. I wonder how many investigators would consider that? My impression is that, here in New Jersey land, most murders are stupid acts by stupid people, and investigators don’t get to exercise their critical intelligence very often.

When I describe a novel as “atmospheric”, I’m referring to culture, and this book explores an interesting aspect of Canadian culture, or rather bi-culture. Both French and English are official languages. I believe the educational system is directed towards bilingualism. The book occasionally explores the questions of relative status and power between the two cultural groups.. which he refers to as Francophone and Anglophone. Certainly the author believes that French speaking women are sharper dressers!

Last summer I met a woman from Massachusetts who grew up in Canada and, I believe, spoke French before she learned English. I’d love to run this book past her for critical commentary! When I need something to read at the beach, I’ll return to Louise Penny.