Agent Zaiba has been on my radar for a while but if, like me, you haven’t read the first in this series, The Missing Diamonds, then fear not – this middle grade detective story works very well as a stand alone story and is a delight in its gentle plot suitable for lower KS2 readers and above.
Having solved the mystery and found the missing diamonds in the previous title, we find Zaiba enormously excited at the prospect of her school’s summer fête at which she has organised a ‘detective trail’ for the amusement of visitors. Less excited at having to attend is younger brother Ali although he perks up when he is entered together with the children’s father into a ‘Great British Bake Off’ style competition which Dad Hassan is determined to win.
Together with friend and trusty sidekick Poppy, Zaiba sets up her crime scene and sets off her participants only for the baking competition to come to a sudden halt when one of the judges is mysteriously taken ill with suspected poisoning. At this point, Zaiba immediately springs into action in order to find out who has been responsible for this terrible interruption to the fun of the event and ensure that they are brought to justice.
In common with the other detective stories I’ve read recently aimed at older children, the story does not patronise its young readers and the plot unfolds in a satisfying way as the clues are uncovered and their importance deduced. As is appropriate for its younger audience, the poisoning is presented in a gentle way and there is a lot of humour throughout the story so that this book has a really cosy feel to it which would not leave any more sensitive readers with nightmares.
Zaiba is a very likeable character who has been inspired both by the books she reads and by her Aunt Fouzia who runs a detective agency in Pakistan. There has been much discussion recently on Twitter and elsewhere about the representation of non-white characters in literature and for many children, the inclusion of Zaiba as the ‘star of the show’ and her family in this series demonstrates that people from diverse backgrounds are starting to be represented more often in the books that we share, albeit slowly.
Many children will also recognise the blended family in which Zaiba and Ali live with their father and stepmother – one with whom the children are blessed with a good relationship. They will also recognise that family members are not always who you would choose them to be with the inclusion of the cousin with whom Zaiba does not get on very easily. In class, children frequently compare themselves with one another and it’s always good for them to see the types of families that they and their friends live with being presented as a different type of ‘normal’.
I very much enjoyed this book. Although, as an adult, I found the plot a little far-fetched in places I loved its gentle pace and age-appropriate presentation of what would in real life be a scary event. Additionally, the illustrations throughout by Daniela Sosa are wonderful and will add to the enjoyment of many a reader, especially those who are gaining in confidence in reading chapter books. This will be a very welcome addition to my class’s little library ahead of September when the Year 4s move up and I’m confident it will be a popular read with many of the class.
Many thanks must go to Little Tiger for providing me with a copy ahead of publication on 23rd July. 5 out of 5 stars.