Wednesday, August 18, 2021

A Mystery at Lili Villa

Menon, Arathi. A Mystery at Lili Villa
July 31st 2021 by Yali Books
E ARC provided by Netgalley

Tam is spending the summer in Elathor, Kerala, India with her aunt and uncle. Damodar Ammavan and Sheila Ammayi are very busy physicians who have a driver to take them back and forth from the hospital. Tam and her cousins, Arj and Mira, are looked after by some of the household staff, including Pitamma, a cook who makes delicious snacks for them. When the house is broken into and Ammayi's gold jewelry is stolen, the children decide to style themselves as investigators and solve the mystery. There are all manner of suspects, including the driver, a fisherwoman who is mean to their cat, the woman who takes care of the cows at the villa, Dumdumchecchi, a young man they call Well-Cleaner Mani, Fan-Fixer Faekkku, and the homeless Pottan. The local police, headed by Thombu, don't seem to be taking the case seriously, but the children are determined to figure out the crime. While doing so, they get to meet a variety of people in the area and learn more about them. This is the start of a series, with the next book being The Mystery at the Mumbai Turf Club.
Strengths: I am always looking for books set in other parts of the world, written by people who live there, because the details of daily life are always so much better. Tam usually lives in the city with her single mother, so Lili Villa is a different way of life even for her. It's good to see interactions between cousins, and the people whom the trio meet are not like anyone my students would have come in contact with! This had a sort of Penderwick vibe, with children being allowed a lot of freedom to go around and explore, and that will be tremendously appealing to US children who might spend most of their summers under direct supervision in summer camps. The mystery is fairly mild, but is resolved in a good way.
Weaknesses: There are some cultural conventions in US writing that are not observed, so there are characters who are described somewhat negatively by their weight, and the homeless man, Pottan, is also described in a somewhat negative way. While this doesn't bother me (although it does make the book read like some I read as a child), as it's important to see how other cultures perceive things, I mention it in case anyone is very sensitive to those topics. 
What I really think: This seemed a bit young for my students, who prefer their mysteries to involve murders or murderous ghosts, but would be a fun addition to an elementary library where The Boxcar Children mysteries are popular. I found it a refreshing change from books about children in Indian who are experiencing trauma, which is the vast majority of the ones I've read. 

Leslie Fay apparently still makes women's dresses, but not like this 1997 beauty with shoulder pads fit for football! I had several of these back in the day, but this is the only one remaining. I love the pleated skirts, but several of them had unfortunately placed pockets and have been weeded out. Should have kept the floral one with the lace collar. Sigh. 

Fell down a bit of a rabbit hole looking up school dress codes over the weekend, and this is my favorite thing: “If you are so comfortable you don’t need to change when you get home from work, you are too comfortable for work.” (

As a pre-elderly person, I have to say I agree with this sentiment, but I know that I am in the minority here. 

1 comment:

  1. I have now done three actual children's librarian shifts (part time weekend sub although I am only 3/4 done with my degree) and the only time I got stumped was when a child returned a Sherlock Holmes collection and asked for more mysteries. My mind went completely blank!

    While I have worn a lot of comfortable garments working from home, now that I am back in my office I am amazed by the sloppiness of my coworkers. I guess they think showing up with their masks on is enough!