From Dagger Award–winning and internationally bestselling author Alan Bradley comes this utterly beguiling mystery starring one of fiction’s most remarkable sleuths: Flavia de Luce, a dangerously brilliant eleven-year-old with a passion for chemistry and a genius for solving murders. This time, Flavia finds herself untangling two deaths—separated by time but linked by the unlikeliest of threads.
Flavia thinks that her days of crime-solving in the bucolic English hamlet of Bishop’s Lacy are over—and then Rupert Porson has an unfortunate rendezvous with electricity. The beloved puppeteer has had his own strings sizzled, but who’d do such a thing and why? For Flavia, the questions are intriguing enough to make her put aside her chemistry experiments and schemes of vengeance against her insufferable big sisters. Astride Gladys, her trusty bicycle, Flavia sets out from the de Luces’ crumbling family mansion in search of Bishop’s Lacey’s deadliest secrets.
Does the madwoman who lives in Gibbet Wood know more than she’s letting on? What of the vicar’s odd ministrations to the catatonic woman in the dovecote? Then there’s a German pilot obsessed with the Brontë sisters, a reproachful spinster aunt, and even a box of poisoned chocolates. Most troubling of all is Porson’s assistant, the charming but erratic Nialla. All clues point toward a suspicious death years earlier and a case the local constables can’t solve—without Flavia’s help. But in getting so close to who’s secretly pulling the strings of this dance of death, has our precocious heroine finally gotten in way over her head?
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Amazon Exclusive: An Essay by Alan Bradley
Flavia de Luce walked into my life one winter day, parked herself on a campstool, and refused to be budged.
It took me quite a while to realize that she wasn’t even faintly interested in the mystery novel I was attempting to write at the time: the one into which she had wandered. I found out quickly enough that Flavia wanted her own book--and that was that.
And it was just the beginning. There were still more problems to come.
The first was this: Flavia lived in 1950, while I was writing about her in 2006 and 2007.
As an author, it’s not as easy as you might think projecting--and keeping--your mind in a different century from your body--not without forever being yanked back into the present by everyday annoyances such as frozen water pipes, expiring license plates, incessantly barking dogs, and the need to shop for food.
Another problem was this: I lived on Canada’s west coast, where the clocks are set to Pacific Time, while Flavia lived in Bishop’s Lacey, England, which is on Greenwich Mean Time--a difference of nine hours. In practical terms, this meant that Flavia was raring to go every day just as I was getting ready for bed. Because there was no point in either of us being tired and cranky, we finally managed to work out a compromise in which I began awakening at 4:00 a.m. to write, while Flavia (rather impatiently) hung around until after lunch, waiting for me to show up.
As The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie progressed, I soon learned that Flavia wouldn’t be pushed around--especially by me. Because she had so many of her own ideas, she had little patience with mine. Occasionally, if I were tired, I’d find myself trying to put words in her mouth: to push her, as it were. But Flavia would have none of it.
"Blot that," she seemed to be saying. "Let’s back up and start again."
And of course we did.
Then there was the problem of the chemistry. While Flavia knew everything about chemistry that could be known, my own knowledge of the subject could be put into a thimble with room left over for a finger. If I protested that I was in doubt about the precise details of one of her more bizarre chemical experiments, Flavia would snap her metaphorical fingers and say, "Well, you can look it up in your spare time."
Almost from the outset I realized that the tale Flavia had to tell could never be contained in a single book. And that’s how the series was born. Fortunately, my editors were in total agreement!
We liked the idea of each book revolving around some now-vanished English custom, or way of life, and of being able, gradually, to get to know the de Luce family, giving each of them the time and the space to--eventually--tell his or her own story.
Of course, to convey authentic 1950s voices, the pacing would have to be slower than we are used to in the 21st century. On the other hand, a more relaxed narrative would allow for an additional overall richness of description that might not be found in a more breakneck series of thrillers.
But I needn’t have worried: Flavia had her own voice and insisted on being listened to.
It was I who had to do the learning. --Alan Bradley
(Photo © Shirley Bradley)About the Author:
Alan Bradley was born in Toronto and grew up in Cobourg, Ontario. With an education in electronic engineering, Alan worked at numerous radio and television stations in Ontario, and at Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now Ryerson University) in Toronto, before becoming Director of Television Engineering in the media centre at the University of Saskatchewan, where he worked for twenty-five years before taking early retirement in 1994.
Bradley was the first President of the Saskatoon Writers, and a founding member of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. His children’s stories were published in The Canadian Children’s Annual and his short story “Meet Miss Mullen” was the first recipient of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild Award for Children’s Literature.
For a number of years, Alan regularly taught scriptwriting and television production courses at the University of Saskatchewan. His fiction has been published in literary journals and he has given many public readings in schools and galleries. His short stories have been broadcast by CBC Radio, and his lifestyle and humour pieces have appeared in The Globe and Mail and The National Post.
Alan Bradley was also a founding member of The Casebook of Saskatoon, a society devoted to the study of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockian writings. There, he met the late Dr. William A.S. Sarjeant, with whom he collaborated on the classic book Ms. Holmes of Baker Street (1989). This work put forth the startling theory that the Great Detective was a woman, and was greeted upon publication with what has been described as “a firestorm of controversy.” As he’s explained in interviews, Bradley was always an avid reader of mysteries, even as a child: “My grandmother used to press them upon us when we were very young. One of the first books she gave me was Dorothy L. Sayers’ Busman’s Holiday. I was profoundly influenced by it.”
Upon retirement, Bradley began writing full time. His next book, The Shoebox Bible (2006), has been compared with Tuesdays With Morrie and Mister God, This is Anna. In this beautiful memoir, Bradley tells the story of his early life in southern Ontario, and paints a vivid portrait of his mother, a strong and inspirational woman who struggled to raise three children on her own during tough times.
In July of 2007, Bradley won the Debut Dagger Award from the British Crime Writers’ Association for The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (2009), based on a sample that would become the first novel in a series featuring eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce. As Bradley has explained, it was the character of Flavia that inspired him to embark upon the project: “I started to write The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie in the spring of 2006. Flavia walked into another novel I was writing as an incidental character, and she hijacked the book. Although I didn’t finish that book, Flavia stuck with me.” The Dagger award brought international attention to Bradley’s fiction debut, and Sweetness and the additional novels planned for the series will be published in twenty-eight languages and in more than thirty countries.
Alan Bradley lives in Malta with his wife Shirley and two calculating cats. He is currently working on the third novel starring Flavia de Luce, A Red Herring Without Mustard .
From the Hardcover edition.
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