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Sonderbooks Book Review of

The Great Cake Mystery

by Alexander McCall Smith


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The Great Cake Mystery

by Alexander McCall Smith

Reviewed February 21, 2013.
Anchor Books (Random House), New York, 2012. First published in Scotland in 2010. 73 pages.
Starred Review

A book for beginning chapter book readers about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective, Precious Ramotswe, when she was a little girl! Now readers ready for short chapters can enjoy the flavor of Botswana, as adults have been doing for so long.

Sweet things have been disappearing at Precious’s school, and one boy has been found to have sticky hands. But is that enough evidence against him? Precious doesn’t think so, and she comes up with a clever trick for catching the real thief.

The story is simple and perhaps a little predictable, but it doesn’t talk down to kids and would be a delight to read aloud to a class or to a family at bedtime.

The style, matter-of-fact and pleasant, matches that used in the books for adults, and I did feel like I was meeting the same person as a child. And now we have the treat of her interactions with her father, Obed Ramotswe. In fact, he tells Precious a story at the beginning, which is what triggers the thought that she may be a detective one day. And then a piece of cake is missing from her school.

She might easily have forgotten all about it – after all, it was only a piece of cake – but the next day it happened again. This time it was a piece of bread that was stolen – not an ordinary piece of bread, though: this one was covered in delicious strawberry jam. You can lose a plain piece of bread and not think twice about it, but when you lose one spread thickly with strawberry jam it’s an altogether more serious matter.

This book is a selection for this year’s Summer Reading Program in Fairfax County, Virginia, and I’m delighted that got me to finally read it. This will be a fun one to tell kids about. It’s perfect for that first desire to step into chapter books and will reward readers with an absorbing story.

I also love that it’s set in modern Botswana as a lovely place where normal kids live and go to school. Some things about Botswana – like the wildlife – are spelled out, and the pronunciation of names (like Ramotswe) is given. But it’s clear that kids are kids and are the same everywhere.