Monday, May 18, 2009

Great New Writer and Character

This weekend, when I wasn't tromping around Irvington peering into people's houses -- courtesy of the annual Irvington Home tour -- and dreaming about what my house COULD look like some day (assuming I win the lottery, at least once, and gain even a modicum of good taste), I was sprawled in my favorite chair in the sun on my back deck reading a wickedly wonderful new mystery, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley (published by Delacorte Press, a division of Random House). I truly hated to see this book end -- I already miss Flavia!

The book, winner of the Crime Writers' Association Debut Dagger Award, stars an inventive and entertaining main character, eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring young chemist with a passion for poison living in a decaying English mansion in 1950 with her father and two older sisters. As the story unfolds, a dead bird -- a jack snipe, to be precise -- 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. Flavia is both appalled and delighted: "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." From the looks of things, Flavia likely has many even more interesting experiences ahead of her. In fact, Flavia has already become so popular she has her own fan club!

Laurie R. King, author of the Mary Russell and Kate Martinelli mystery series, had this to say: "A wickedly clever story, a dead true and original voice, and an English country house in the summer: Alexander McCall Smith meets Sir Arthur Conan Doyle."

Alan Bradley was born in Toronto and grew up in Cobourg, Ontario. With an education in electronic engineering, he 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 in Saskatoon, SK, where he remained for 25 years before taking early retirement to write in 1994. He became the first President of the Saskatoon Writers, and a founding member of the Saskatchewan Writers Guild. For a number of years, he regularly taught Script Writing and Television Production courses at the University of Saskatchewan (Extension Division) at both beginner and advanced levels.

Bradley's 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. He was a founding member of The Casebook of Saskatoon, a society devoted to the study of Sherlock Holmes and Sherlockian writings. Here, he met the late Dr. William A.S. Sarjeant, with whom he collaborated on their classic book, Ms Holmes of Baker Street. 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." Currently he lives in Kelowna, BC, with his wife Shirley and two calculating cats.

The good news is that there are already two more Flavia de Luce books in the making, one involving a traveling puppet show and another involving Gypsy lore. Look for those in 2010 and 2011. In the interim, when you're looking for something to read after The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, check out one of Bradley's favorite mystery writers: "No writer has inspired me more than Louise Penny, whose first detective novel was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger Award in 2004. Set in Quebec, Louise's Armand Gamache mysteries are simply not to be missed." That first book, Still Life, is available at Broadway Books in paperback, as are the next two books in the series, A Fatal Grace and The Cruelist Month.

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