By Alexander McCall Smith, Illustrated by Iain McIntosh
Anchor Books, $6.99, 83 pages

The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe’s Very First Case comes across as a classic. Alexander McCall Smith wrote the book as a children’s precursor to his popular series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. The Great Cake Mystery introduces Mma Ramotswe to a younger audience and establishes how she came to solve her first mystery. Cake, jam-slathered bread and iced buns have disappeared at Precious’ school. Some of Precious’ friends think they know who the thief is, but Precious isn’t so certain. She wants clues and after cracking the case, she sets out to catch the thief in the act and prove to the rest of her schoolmates who really was behind the disappearing treats. Precious is an endearing character with a penchant for doing the right thing. Her story is set in Botswana and is illustrated with beautifully atmospheric drawings. The writing is unpretentious and easy to read, with the story moving along quickly. The simple truths in McCall’s writing are refreshing and heartwarming. This is a fine introduction to mysteries for young readers.

Reviewed by Andrea Klein