great cake mystery

The Great Cake Mystery by Alexander McCall Smith, illustrations by Iain McIntosh

The author of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series has written his first children’s book.  This one too stars Precious Ramotswe and is the story of her very first mystery as a child in Botswana.  When her father tells her a favorite story about when a lion got into their village, he notices that she has several characteristics of a detective: she asks a lot of questions and she can tell when people are telling the truth.  So when food starts disappearing at Precious’ school, she gets involved in solving the mystery.  She is shocked when one of her friends accuses another boy of being the thief because he has sticky fingers, literally.  It makes her even more determined to figure out exactly who is stealing the food. 

Told in very simple prose, sometimes a bit too simple, this story has a certain charm about it.  The book begins in a rather stilted way thanks to the wording, but quickly moves on to a more natural cadence that works much better.  I am pleased to see a mystery set in Africa with a young female protagonist who manages to solve the mystery without any adult help.  Smith captures the differences between societies as well as the special setting of Botswana.

McIntosh’s illustrations are block prints done in a limited color palette of red, black and gray.  They have a quality about them that speaks to the setting clearly.  They have a delicate and yet unfinished quality that is very appealing.

This book for young readers has plenty of mystery, detective work and an appealing heroine.  Appropriate for ages 6-9.

Reviewed from library copy.