‘“I think it ended all right,” he began. “One of the family went straight back to Spain and found her sitting on a beach eating an ice cream. She was quite disappointed to hear that the holiday was over, as she had been enjoying herself.”’

Who doesn’t love the circus? Who doesn’t love a mystery? Much-loved author Alexander McCall Smith has combined both for his latest childrens’ series, The Big Top Mysteries, starring the intrepid investigative trio Billy, Fern and Joe Shortbread.


Extract taken from The Case of the Vanishing Granny
By Alexander McCall Smith
Published by Barrington Stoke


“What’s your name?” Billy asked as they sat down.

“Tom,” said the boy. “And … and I’m sorry about looking so sad, but you see I am sad inside, and when you’re sad inside it’s hard to be not sad outside – if you know what I mean.”

Billy assured Tom that he understood. “At times I feel a bit sad too,” he said.

Tom nodded. “You see,” he began, “it’s my granny.”

“Is she not feeling well?” asked Billy.

Tom looked down at his popcorn. “No,” he said. “She’s not ill. She’s disappeared.”

Billy had not been expecting this. “Disappeared?” he exclaimed. “Do you mean she’s vanished? Just like that?” He had read a story once about somebody who had become invisible. One moment she was there and then the next moment nobody could see her. She had come back of course, bit by bit, starting with her toes and ending up with the top of her head, but that was just a story. Things happen in stories that never happen in real life – except sometimes, of course.

“No,” answered Tom. “She didn’t vanish in a puff of smoke. Yesterday, she just left. Nobody knows where she is.”

“Have they looked everywhere?” asked Billy. There were plenty of places you might find your granny if she suddenly went missing.  He had heard of a granny who had suddenly decided to go off on a cruise to Florida without telling anybody. Her family had no idea about this until she sent a postcard from Orlando telling them what a good time she was having. And then there was the granny who went off to France to join the Foreign Legion, which is part of the French Army, and only returned, most disappointed, when she was told that the Foreign Legion did not take grannies. These were unusual cases, of course: most grannies stayed put and could be found every day in more or less the same place.

Tom said that he had carried out a very thorough search. “I looked everywhere,” he said. “I looked in all the cupboards in her room. I looked under the table. I looked in the garden. But there was no trace of her.”

“Oh dear,” said Billy. “What about your parents?” he asked. “What did they have to say about this?”

Tom frowned. “That’s the odd thing,” he replied. “My parents didn’t seem to be very worried. They said, ‘Oh, Granny will be all right.’ That was all. But how do they know that?”

Billy was surprised. “So, they’re leaving it to you to find her?” he asked.

“Yes,” said Tom. “And that’s one of the reasons I’m so worried. I don’t know where else to look.”

It was at this point that Fern joined them. She sat on the other side of Tom as he told his story once more. Feeling sorry for him, Fern put her arm around his shoulder to comfort him.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “Was she a good granny?”

“The best,” answered Tom.

Fern glanced at her brother. She was sure he was thinking the same thing. “We’re going to help find your granny, Tom,” she said softly.

Billy did not hesitate. “Yes,” he said. “We are.”

It was going to be their first case, and both of them were determined that they would help their unhappy new friend. They were not sure how they were going to do it, but they were sure they would.

Tom looked at them gratefully. And then, for the first time that day, he smiled.

But how were they going to help Tom? It is easy enough to say that you are going to solve a mystery, but a bit harder to work out how to do it.

Fern thought it might be a good idea to ask Mr Birdcage for help. Billy agreed. “He knows just about everything,” he said. “Surely he would know how to find a missing granny.”

They spoke to him after breakfast. Mr Birdcage was sitting outside his caravan, enjoying the morning sun and reading his newspaper. He listened as they told him about their conversation with Tom. Then he stroked his chin thoughtfully, as he often did when asked a difficult question.

“This won’t be easy,” he replied at length. “Grannies don’t usually go missing for no reason at all. When they do, it’s usually because somebody has made a terrible mistake.”

“Such as?” asked Billy.

“Well,” said Mr Birdcage. “There was a case a few years ago of a family who took their granny with them on holiday. They went off on an aeroplane to somewhere in Spain, I think. They had a very good holiday. There was a nice beach, I believe, and restaurants and so on. All very pleasant.”

“And then?” Fern asked.

“They went to the airport and boarded the plane to come home,” Mr Birdcage said. “It was only when they were halfway home that one of the children asked ‘Where’s Granny?’ And that was when they realised they’d left her in Spain – by mistake.”

Billy caught his breath. “What happened to that poor granny?” he asked.

Mr Birdcage frowned as he tried to remember. “I think it ended all right,” he began. “One of the family went straight back to Spain and found her sitting on a beach eating an ice cream. She was quite disappointed to hear that the holiday was over, as she had been enjoying herself.”


The Case of the Vanishing Granny by Alexander McCall Smith is published by Barrington Stoke, priced £6.99

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