The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley: Reading does not get better than this! The story begins in 1950s rural England, where precocious eleven-year-old Flavia deLuce spends her spare time getting even with her older sisters, tinkering with poisons in her chemistry lab, and riding her bicycle from the rundown family manor to the village. When a dead bird turns up on the doorstep with a postage stamp on its beak and a barely alive stranger breathes his last, perplexing word ("Vale!") to Flavia, it is the most exciting time in her life to date. Most troubling to her: her father's shock and fright at the sight of the bird and a missing piece of the housekeeper's dreadful custard pie - who could possibly have eaten that? She digs into the investigation with relish, uncovering disturbing information about her father's school days and a postage stamp worth killing for. The police at first send Flavia off to make tea, but grow to appreciate her insights. The premise of a young aristocratic girl solving mysteries could be dreadful, but in Bradley's capable, witty hands, the material makes for an engaging mystery that manages to exude originality while evoking the Golden Age mystery. Is Flavia a realistic eleven-year-old from 1950? Really, I don't care in the least. She's so appealing, and I was so relieved that she uses her prodigious intellect for (mostly) good and not evil, that I wasn't bothered by questions of how
Fortunately, Sweetness is billed as the first in a series, and I look forward to more of Flavia's outrageous antics and penetrating deductions.