Title: A Mystery at Lili Villa
Author: Arathi Menon
Genre: Mystery, middle grade
Publisher: Yali Books
Pub date: July 31st, 2021
Cousins Arj, Tam, and Mira are spending their summer vacation in Elathoor, a little village in Kerala when their family home, Lili Villa, is broken into and some jewelry is stolen. The Terrific Three set out to solve the mystery but soon discover that there is no shortage of suspects. Is it Pinching Kodavis or Dumdumchecchi, the milking lady? Is it the mean fisherwoman who starves the cat or the retired nurse who owns a luxury car? Or is it Mani with his upside-down Russian secret? Who could the thief possibly be? In a throwback to unscheduled summer vacations, this cozy mystery will charm young readers with plenty of sibling sparring, some intrepid sleuthing, and an endless parade of mouth-watering snacks.
My Review of A Mystery of Lili Villa
Put Enid Blyton’s Five Find-Outers and Dog in Kerala and the result is A Mystery of Lili Villa!
I love the fact that we have something comparable for children in India with people, places, and situations they can easily relate to. Summer vacations are a time of fun, adventure, meeting cousins, eating delicious food, and generally running wild.
Little moments like Tam asking her mother why she got to eat only one curry in Bengaluru, whereas Arj and Mira ate five curries for lunch at Elathoor describe the difference in lifestyles in urban and rural areas.
When a story is narrated from the point of view of children, we get to see unique perspectives that escape us as adults. Based on how the children view the people in their life, they give them fun names – Dumdumchechi (milkmaid), Fan Fixer Faekku (electrician), DoubleMean (fisherwoman), Well-Cleaner Mani (well maintenance guy), Pitamma (cook), Kodavis (driver), and so on.
The dynamics between a mixed group of children has been captured well. The eldest become leaders, grabbing the plum tasks for themselves and handing over the boring jobs to the youngest ones. Or leaving the younger ones out of exciting “adventures.”
The innocence of the children, their inquisitiveness, the way they stayed clear of the elders, and the way they see everything from a childish lens — the author is adept at conveying all of it.
Most children love to play detective and the children at Lili Villa are no different. Interestingly, the parents have removed access to gadgets and screens for the summer holidays. This forces the children to rely on their deductive powers to solve the mystery. It reminded me of simpler times when children spent summer afternoons making up games and activities to kill boredom.
The flavor of Kerala is present in every page — through the mouth-watering descriptions of food, the outfits, the way people address each other, the marketplace, and a fishing scene.
Pitamma, the cook, whips up one hot feast after the other – kadala-puttu, appams, dosas, pazhampori, natholi, unnakkai, vadas. Even the snacks she makes sound so appetizing.
I enjoyed this short yet immersive book immensely. It made me so nostalgic that even I felt a bit sad when the “summer vacation” ended and Tam had to return to Bengaluru.
(I received an e-copy of the book from Lonely Pages Book Tours with a request for an honest review.)
About Arathi Menon
Arathi Menon is an author and a columnist, currently based in London. In She published her first book Leaving Home With Half A Fridge in 2015. She has received a highly commendable mention at the 2018 FAB Awards and was a part of a group exhibit at the Tate Modern, London in 2019 and 2020. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. She loves a good story, all animals, and pink tuck.
A Mystery at Lili Villa Tour Schedule
(This post is also part of Blogchatter Half Marathon Aug ’21.)