Wednesday, June 6, 2012

The Great Cake Mystery

People who know me well know I love mysteries. I started at age 10 with the Nancy Drew series and never looked back. Today children can get hooked on detective stories at an even earlier age. Precious Ramotswe, a private eye living in Botswana, stars in a number of adult mysteries written by the prolific Alexander McCall Smith. Now young readers have the chance to meet Precious as Smith recounts how she solved her first case while still a schoolgirl. Smith has an easy, conversational style. He begins, "Have you ever said to yourself, Wouldn't it be nice to be a detective?" Readers feel themselves in the hands of a natural storyteller and immediately relax.

The mystery Precious solves is appropriately scaled for young readers. A thief is stealing delicious baked goods from students in school. When a boy is accused on circumstantial evidence, Precious comes to his rescue. And when the true suspect is revealed, like in every good mystery, readers will experience both surprise at not spotting the culprit sooner and a sense of inevitability.

Set in Botswana, the book immerses readers in a world much different from the world they know. Smith begins the book with Precious's father relating a tale of how he saved his village from a hungry lion by keeping his wits about him. Readers will relate, though, to Precious and her classmates, who behave as children do the world over.

The book is illustrated in striking woodcuts. Ian McIntosh limits himself to a palette of red, black, and gray, yet manages to produce  bold artwork that give the story a timeless feel. Altogether, this book serves as a fine introduction to the mystery genre.

The Great Cake Mystery
by Alexander McCall Smith
illustrations by Iain McIntosh
Anchor Books, 80 pages
Published: April 2012

1 comment:

  1. I really loved this book, too. I put it on my list of chapter books about girls. I'm surprised it doesn't have a sequel, yet!