This engaging and fun early middle grades detective story set in England, features a female protagonist of Pakistani origin who stumbles on a crime at her cousins mehndi party. Over 231 pages with illustrations and flourishes, Agent Zaiba along with her younger half brother Ali and best friend Poppy will have to solve a case, avoid a nosy cousin, try not to ruin their clothes and so much more while stuffing their pockets with samosas and pakoras, and making sure they make it back for all the traditional events as well. There is nothing Islamic in this culture rich book, but with names like Fouzia, Samirah, Tanvir, Mariam, Maysoon, and Hassan, Muslim children or readers with sub continent familiarity, will feel an immediate reflection of themselves in the story. I have no idea what religion the author identifies as either, but from what I can Google, it seems to be an OWN story book and the richness and integrity of the minor details would suggest first hand knowledge. Anyone looking to see a strong minority female lead with good friends, an open mind, and impressive sleuthing skills, should hold on tight as the agents assemble to get to the bottom of a theft and save the day for a beloved cousin.
Zaiba idolizes her Aunt Fouzia who is a real detective and owner of the Snow Leopard Detective Agency in Karachi, Pakistan. Aunt Fozia’s daughter Samirah is getting married and with the Eden Lockett mystery books Zaiba inherited from her mom when she passed away, this party at The Royal Star Hotel is the perfect venue to test out her observation skills and other lessons she has learned from devouring the famous books.
When Zaiba, Ali, and Poppy learn that there is a VIP guest staying in the same hotel, the team gets a chance to explore the hotel and find out who the guest is. What starts out innocently enough quickly elevates when a secret staircase is discovered, the VIP’s dog is set off his leash, and a jewel encrusted dog tag goes missing. The three kids work together and set off to find the dog that has terrified Sam and ruined her mehndi, once that is done, the stakes get higher as Maysoon explains that the good luck charm is not just expensive, but a lucky token she needs to move her career from singing and hosting, to acting. As the children work to find the diamonds and work their way through the list of suspects at the hotel, they have to make sure not get in too much trouble for missing key events of their cousins big day and getting in trouble with the tattling cousin Mariam.
WHY I LIKE IT:
I love that it is really for younger readers, second through early fourth grade, and shows the fun bits of a culture to a larger audience without being daunting. I love the idea of a mehndi as a back drop for a whodunit, seriously, it has the perfect energy and vibe. The family is amazingly supportive, Zaiba has a step mom, Jessica, that she adores, and a half brother that she loves. Aunt Fouzia and Sam encourage Zaiba to go solve the crime and give her respect when she does her big reveal to the police. It really is empowering to see the grown ups support. I love that Zaiba grows even in such a limited time as she learns about her mom and we even see Zaiba’s heart soften for Mariam.
Maysoon is a celebrity that is really flat and weak and whiney, at the end she shines a bit, but I really felt she was lame and under developed. I’m not sure what a champagne reception is, but the fact that Maysoon is having one would suggest she isn’t Muslim, not sure, I guess I’ll have to keep searching for clues.
The end of the book has a whole section to test the reader if they have what it takes to join the Snow Leopard Detective Agency: an excerpt from Eden Lockett’s book, her detective tips, things to practice, code writing, and info about the Agency, including Aunt Fozia’s record amounts of chai consumed.
There is lying and stealing, it is a mystery after all, and the presence of champagne, both as part of the mystery solving and at the celebrity’s celebration.
TOOLS FOR LEADING THE DISCUSSION:
I don’t think I’d do it as a book club book, because there wouldn’t be a lot to discuss. I do, however, plan to suggest and gift the two book series to some young mixed ethnic Pakistani girls I know that would love to see a strong desi girl in the lead.