Precious and the Monkeys by Alexander McCall Smith and illustrated by Iain McIntosh (Hardback, 73 pages, July 2011, Polygon, An Imprint of Birlinn Limited, ISBN: 1846972043)
Precious and the Monkeys was first published in the Scottish language as Precious and the Puggies
and I have to confess that, even though it's a children's book, I couldn't make head nor tale of it so I was very pleased when this English language version came out.
Precious and the Monkeys reveals how Precious (later Mma) Ramotse was inspired to become a detective and how the name of her business was devised, but it mainly details her first case as a young girl.
Still unsure how to pronounce Ramotswe? From Chapter One:
"That is an African name, and is not as hard to say as it looks. You just say RAM and then you say OTS (like lots without the l) and the you finish it off by saying WE. That's it."
The crime Precious has to investigate is who is stealing food from her classmates at school? Fingers are pointed at one of her fellow pupils but Precious insists that's there's no proof and that you really mustn't accuse someone without hard facts. Showing the kindly ways, readers of the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series are familiar with, she befriends the suspect and the solution is revealed and the culprit caught (though the cover and title do rather give it away).
The story, however, isn't a whodunnit but a morality tale, told by an avuncular narrator, with the hope of encouraging its young readers to behave considerately and thoughtfully. It is utterly charming and the illustrations are beautiful. A delightful book which is over all too soon.
This will be published in the US as The Great Cake Mystery: Precious Ramotswe's Very First Case, on 3 April.