Alan Bradley

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie

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  • Features 27 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 75-page guide for “The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie” by Alan Bradley includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 27 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Grief’s Effect on Families and The Precocious Child Detective.

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (2009) by Alan Bradley is a murder mystery novel. It is the author’s first book, published when he was 70 years old. The novel won the Dagger, Agatha, Barry, Dilys, Arthur Ellis, Macavity, and Spotted Owl Awards for Best First or Best Debut Novel. It is the first book of The Flavia de Luce Novels.

Plot Summary 

The protagonist and narrator of The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie is 11-year-old Flavia de Luce, who lives in the English countryside in 1950. She comes from an aristocratic family who has lived in the sprawling Buckshaw manor for centuries. Her sisters, 17-year-old Ophelia and 13-year-old Daphne, ignore and bully her; her remote father, Colonel Haviland “Laurence” de Luce, spends all his time with his beloved stamp collection. Her mother, Harriet, died when Flavia was one year old. Flavia’s only friend is the family gardener, Dogger Weasley.

One day the family cook, Mrs. Mullet, finds a bird with a postage stamp stuck through its beak dead on their porch. Flavia’s father reacts strangely at the sight of the bird. Late that night, Flavia overhears her father arguing with a stranger in his study. The stranger is trying to extort money from her father and mentions that they both killed someone named Twining in the past. Hours later, unable to sleep, Flavia goes down to the garden and finds the stranger on the ground. He breathes his last word, vale, which is Latin for “farewell,” and dies. The police arrive to investigate the death, led by Inspector Hewitt.

Flavia embarks on her own murder investigation. She goes into the nearby village of Bishop’s Lacey and searches for old newspapers in the library, aided by Miss Mountjoy. Flavia discovers that her father’s schoolmaster was named Grenville Twining. He died by jumping off the school’s clock tower after an incident involving the destruction of a priceless stamp. She also learns that the dead stranger was Horace Bonepenny, her father’s classmate. Miss Mountjoy reveals that Mr. Twining was her uncle, and she blames the boys who destroyed the headmaster’s prized stamp, including Flavia’s father and Horace Bonepenny, for his death.

Flavia also visits the inn where Bonepenny stayed and secretly searches his room. Hidden under a label on his steamer trunk, Flavia finds an envelope with two orange stamps. She also notes that Bonepenny had a case of insulin vials.

Flavia’s father is arrested for the murder of Bonepenny, spurring Flavia to continue her investigation. At the police station, Inspector Hewitt allows Flavia to visit her father, who tells her a lengthy tale of his school days at Greyminster. Laurence befriended Horace Bonepenny, and they shared a talent for magic tricks. After Bonepenny began a friendship with the unsavory Bob Stanley, Laurence realized that Bonepenny was manipulative and dishonest. Mr. Twining started a Philatelist Society, and Laurence fell in love with stamp collecting. Horace also joined the stamp club, but only to convince Mr. Twining to ask the headmaster, Dr. Kissing, to display his priceless TL stamp. The king owned a matching stamp. At the viewing, Bonepenny used sleight of hand to make it appear that he had burned the stamp, but he used Laurence as an unwitting accomplice to steal it. Mr. Twining, distraught at this catastrophe, appeared to commit suicide the next day.

Flavia goes to Greyminster to investigate further. At the top of the clock tower, she finds a large drainage hole and a cap and gown hidden under a tile. She deduces that Bonepenny and Stanley lured Mr. Twining up to the tower and killed him. Bonepenny, in a stolen a cap and gown, pretended to be Mr. Twining, then Stanley dropped the body through the hole, where it plummeted to the ground.

During Flavia’s investigations, a stranger named Frank Pemberton repeatedly comes to Buckshaw, saying that he is writing a book on English country houses and that he would like to interview Laurence. After Flavia makes her discoveries, she returns to the library and looks at the Greyminster yearbooks. Flavia comes upon a photo of her father, Bonepenny, and Bob Stanley, and realizes that Pemberton is Bob Stanley.

Flavia goes to Mr. Twining’s gravestone. Pemberton finds her there and abducts her, forcing Flavia into the Pit Shed, an outbuilding of the library. He binds her hands and feet and covers her head, then demands she tell him where the stamps are. Flavia lies and says they are hidden in her father’s drawing room. While left alone, Flavia realizes that Pemberton killed Bonepenny using his insulin syringe and a poison called carbon tetrachloride. Flavia recognized the poison’s scent on Bonepenny’s breath when he spoke to her. Pemberton intended to steal the stamps from Bonepenny, but he did not have them in his possession, and when Pemberton later went to the inn, Flavia had already found the stamps.

Pemberton returns, angry at Flavia’s lie, and threatens to kill her the same way he murdered Bonepenny. Flavia tries to resist, but with the needle pricking the back of her neck, she gives in. Just at that moment, Dogger and Ophelia crash into the room in Harriet’s Rolls Royce and save Flavia. The police take Pemberton away and release Laurence.

With Dogger’s help, Flavia returns the king’s stamp and receives a letter of thanks in return.

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