One of the first posts I have on this blog centered around one of my then-favorite authors, Alexander McCall Smith. Although I have since refocused my personal reading around classics (and Dickens, Eliot, and Wilkie Collins now vie for the favorite author designation), McCall Smith is still an author I have a special place for, even if I haven’t kept up with all of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency sequels.
What I really enjoyed about the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency was the African setting (I learned about Botswana by reading a novel) as well as the light mystery (I’m not generally a mystery reader) and the subtle humor and commentary in Mma Ramotswe’s ponderings. Imagine my delight when I saw a children’s middle grade book on display featuring a young Precious solving a mystery!
The Great Cake Mystery introduces young readers to the lovely setting of Botswana and a precocious young girl named Precious who likes to figure things out. Although she thinks it may be many years before she’ll have a mystery to solve, it turns out that someone in her school is eating people’s snacks and she may just be able to figure out who has done it. With her father’s encouragement and her own careful logic, a detective is born in Botswana.
The book is a quick and easy read. McCall Smith speaks directly to the reader on occasion, given the story a personal tone. Although there were a few moments in the book when it seemed the author forgot that this was her first case (such as “it took some time for her to drop off, as it often did when she was thinking about a mystery…”), meeting Precious as a child was delightful. She apparently always was a thoughtful, pleasant person. The mystery is a simple and rather predictable one for an adult reader, but young readers will enjoy the intrigue. The clever way Precious proves the solution to the mystery was likewise impressive and amusing.
Although I’m an adult, I look forward to reading more from Precious’ younger days. I suspect and hope that I also may interest my son in Botswana and Africa when we read this story together. The Great Cake Mystery is highly recommended for the young reader.