If you’re lucky, you’ve met sleuth Precious Ramotswe in Alexander McCall Smith’s best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency mysteries for adults. Now in The Mystery of Meerkat Hill, second in Smith’s series for children, young readers get a chance to follow her adventures.
Precious, a girl from Botswana, has a mystery on her hands. Her new friends, Teb and Pontsho, walk shoeless all the way home from school, burning their feet on the hot ground. When Precious learns they have never even tasted an apple, she concludes they must be very poor. Then, her friends’ most valuable possession, the family cow, goes missing. Has it been stolen? Precious is determined to find a way to help. This time she calls on their pet meerkat, Kosi, for assistance, and he nearly steals the show!
The mystery is peppered with family and friends’ tales about hiding from lions and tricking ostriches. All these stories will engage young readers, as will the author’s asides. For example, when Precious visits Teb and Pontsho’s modest home, she tells them it’s a nice house. “That was not a lie,” the author notes. “It is not a lie to say something nice to somebody.” In some stories, this might come across as moralizing, but here, McCall Smith’s light touch makes it palatable.
The action is set against the backdrop of Botswana, with endless skies where at night “the stars appear—great silver fields of them.” The book is written with the ease of a consummate storyteller, while Iain McInstosh’s woodcuts enliven the text and handsomely depict the terrain, people and animal life of Botswana.