As someone growing up in Kolkata, I have been exposed to the Bengali brand of Detective novels from the very beginning of my reading life. These books almost always had a juvenile character, embroiled on his own or in the guise of helping an adult, in the thick of the mystery, trying to solve it. Though it was amusing at the beginning to see someone of my age fighting with culprits and solving crimes, but no sooner was I exposed to the crime writing of the west, then I started to realise what balderdash those so called “crime novels” were. And, the very thought of a policeman sharing clues with a kid was so disturbing that it almost took my mind away from the fact that those books had plots which could be easily used as a net to catch a shark. The holes were big, but not that big for a shark to escape.
So, when I found out that THE SWEETNESS AT THE BOTTOM OF THE PIE featured an eleven year old precocious girl called Flavia De Luce as its main protagonist, I had my doubts. The same old feeling of making a comedy out of a crime thriller. But, I took the plunge, and thank God I did. If finishing the book in two days flat wasn’t proof enough to show that I devoured the book, the fact that i have decided to read all the remaining books in the series one after the another must prove that I have fallen, totally and completely, in awe of Flavia De Luce and her creator Mr. Alan Bradley.
But, this is not the first time that a crime thriller with a child protagonist had garnered such rave reviews, and actually came out as a fascinating read. But those books, be it Blacklands by Belinda Bauer or Last Child by John Hart, were standalones. The heroes never got another shot at glory. Unlike here, where Flavia not only gets to solve the crime of a dead man in their house, Buckshaw’s cucumber patch and save her father, thereby rescuing two very costly and famous memorabilia, one of them belonging to King George himself, and also solve a cold case of suicide which turned out to be murder, but also gets the chance to set herself as a little Miss Marple meets Sherlock Holmes in a series of well read and well received crime novels.
Lastly, Flavia De Luce. I don’t know in reality how to live around a child as precocious as she is, but in these pages she comes out as a character who can bring a smile even to the toughest of men. Her dialogues, courtesy of Mr. Bradley, her experiments with chemistry (a la Dexter’s laboratory) and her penchant for helping her father come out of the jinx makes her one of a kind. And, also her memory of her mother, who disappeared when she was too small to remember anything. Those lines can only bring sadness in the reader’s eyes, showing behind that bubbly little sleuth there remains a little girl who misses her mom.
Poirot is dead. And, with him went away the proverbial village mysteries, to be replaced by sour faced detectives with ecclesial taste in music, Nordic policemen for whom laughing is as bad as having to lead a normal life. Poirot wont come back, but with Flavia, her sidekick Gladys and the village has definitely brought the Golden Age Mysteries back on the map of crime writing world.