My thanks to NetGalley and Yalli Books for a review copy of this book.

The Mystery at Lilli Villa is a children’s mystery set in a small village in Kerala. We have 10-year-old Tam (Tamara) from Bangalore who is visiting her cousins Arj (Arjun) (11) and Mina (9) in Elathoor, Kerala for the summer holidays. She is looking forward to playing with her cousins and the tasty (and lavish) meals and snacks prepared by their cook Pitamma. On the very first night at Lilli Villa, Arj and Mina’s home, Tam hears strange footsteps in the middle of the night; terrified she goes back to sleep, but tells her cousins of this the next morning. The children decide to investigate the matter before reporting it to Arj and Mina’s parents, Damodar and Sheila, who are doctors. They soon find mysterious and unexplained footprints outside and when they tell their parents this, it is soon found that Sheila Ammayi’s jewels have been stolen. The local policeman Thombu, a friend of Damodar, is called in and he soon finds not one, but many in the house and outside whose shoe sizes match the mysterious print. The children, despite being warned off, decided to undertake their own investigations (and the old fashioned way, for they are banned from using phones and tablets during the vacation), and soon uncover more than one secret. While their investigations might be thrilling and Pitamma keeps them well supplied with delicious food, there is also danger along the way, and they must tread carefully.

This was a really cute, charming read. I thought the author did a great job with the mystery itself, with various suspects with their secrets and the children coming upon them in a believable way. The solution too was good fun. I liked that the author has also woven humorous touches into the glossaries which she has added—one on food and the other on Hindi and Malayali words.

The children themselves were pretty likeable, and done very realistically in the sense that their little disagreements (nothing major) and likes and dislikes come through nicely. The range of suspects too, are colourful, each with something to hide (well, may be not always to hide, but things that aren’t generally known), and each distinctive and nicely drawn out.

I also enjoyed all the food in the story—both dishes I was familiar with and things I was not; there is lots of it and it does make one hungry, and interested in trying out some of the dishes and sweets, like the ginger candy.

My favourite part of the book, however, was the setting itself; I thought the author painted a lovely and vivid picture of life in a small Kerala village—from the entertainments and outings that the children turn to or go on, to the close connections that everyone has in a small place, to the gossip networks, all of it was great fun.

A sweet and fun story which I enjoyed very much!

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