Monday 7 April 2014

Review: Scam on the Cam by Clémentine Beauvais (A Sesame Seade Mystery)

Sesame Seade is suspicious. There's something fishy going on by the river: a case for a number one supersleuth!

Sesame's parents insist that there are no pirates in Cambridge, but she's determined to prove them wrong ...

Move aside Darcy Burdock, I just may have got a new favourite female main character, and her name is Sesame Seade. Actually, to be precise, her name is Sophie Margaret Catriona Seade, but who am I to argue with such a headstrong and forthright young lady. Sesame's third mystery adventure, Scam on the Cam, was published last Thursday and this is as much a review of the series so far as it is on this particular book.

Over the last month or so I had been hearing a lot about how great the Sesame Seade Mysteries are, and Jim from YA Yeah Yeah in particular has been singing their praises very enthusiastically. And so I checked out a couple of handful of reviews online, and when I read writer Elen Caldecott describe the first book as "genuinely laugh-out-loud funny" I realised I just had to get my hand on a copy. Thanks to the wonderful people at Hodder and was very soon in possession of all three Sesame Seade books, and they were so good that I couldn't help but chain-read them, each one in a single sitting.

We are first introduced to Sesame in Sleuth on Skates, where she inform us that for the whole of her life she has wanted to be a sleuth, but it is only now "after eleven years, five months and seventeen days of waiting, a mysterious mission found me". We are also introduced to Sesame's parents, Professor and Reverend Seade (who seem to be in a state of constant despair at their daughter's precocious and strong-willed nature - her personality certainly does not appear to be inherited); her best friends Gemma and Toby; her vicious cat Peter Mortimer; and her teacher Mr Barnes (more commonly referred to as Mr Halitosis, for reasons that I probably don't need to go in to here). 

Sesame's first mystery involves a missing student journalist and a scandal that could rock the very foundations of the City of Cambridge and its world renowned university. The second book in the series (I've read somewhere that it might just be a trilogy but I'm keeping everything crossed for more and this is a series that could, and should, go on and on), titled Gargoyles Gone AWOL, sees Sesame hunting for a mystery person who appears to be stealing gargoyles from the roofs of some of the Colleges.

This third book in the series, Scam on the Cam, is probably my favourite of the series so far (rather obstinately, I'm going to continue to refer to these as a series rather than a trilogy). The book opens with Sesame and her friends involved in an enforced rowing activity on the Cam, where they discover a mysterious, locked treasure chest. Naturally, to a child with Sesame's imagination, this can only mean PIRATES! However, just as she is about to start investigating, another mystery comes her way - it appears that a number of the Cambridge rowing team are coming down with a mystery stomach bug, and, with The Boat Race only a short time away, foul play is suspected. Sesame is put on the case as, in the tradition of all great child detectives, who is ever going to suspect an 11 year old of being an investigator?

The Sesame Seade books have enormous appeal to both boys and girls, as they are delightfully subversive in a very similar way to many of Roald Dahl's stories. It's kids vs adults and you probably don't need me to tell you who comes out on top. Sesame does not suffer fools gladly, especially those in adult form, and even more so when they are her stuffy and image-conscious parents. Thus, she takes almost every opportunity to break their rules, but of course in this case it is all perfectly justified as how else would she be able to solves the mysteries that come her way? So we see Sesame sneaking out of her bedroom at night to 'borrow' a boat so that she can paddle down the River Cam to a nearby village or climb a drainpipe to a college roof so she can stakeout the gargoyles. Yes, these are just two of the activities that Sesame gets up to  - she is certainly not one to avoid action, adventure and peril (although running is one of the few disciplines at which she does not excel).

Clémentine Beauvais' books are the perfect example of why I love Middle Grade so much, to the point where I am reading more for this age group than for young adults these days. There's no angst (apart from that suffered by Sesame's parents), no love triangles, no unhappiness or despondency, no teen problems - just pure, unadulterated fun. Like the aforementioned Darcy Burdock, Sesame has a unique and refreshing outlook on life, and as the books are narrated in the first person we as readers can take great delight in her observations and commentary. If Ms Beauvais based even just a small part of Sesame's character on herself as a young girl, then I can't help but feel sorry for her parents and any teacher that crossed her path.

As with many comedy books written for this age group, the words in the Sesame Seade Mysteries come accompanied by illustrations, and refreshingly, brilliant though they are, it is nice to see illustrations by someone other than David Tazzyman or Tony Ross. The Sesame Seade books are illustrated by Sarah Horne, and I would not be surprised if we start to see Sarah's illustrations being used for a multitude of children's books in the future, as they complement Ms Beauvais' story perfectly. In my opinion, Sarah has really captured the essence of what makes Sesame Sesame, and young readers (and their parents) will find their reading experience all the more enjoyable for them.

The three Sesame Seade books are without a doubt some of my favourite reads of 2014 and if you have a 9-11 year old who loves the likes of David Walliams, Laura Dockrill and Roald Dahl then I urge you to get your hands on copies of these books as I am pretty sure your child will love you even more for doing so.


  1. I was excited about the title of this third book, but I think I liked the first two better. Still, a little Sesame time is always fun.

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  2. When I bought this book I thought it was expose on Cambridge University. Joke...

    Sesame is precocious and has great adventures and perceptions (if not always correct) kids have and adults don't. The writing is very pleasing and very funny drawings. It does have some plot twists and this adult looks forward to other Sesame Seade mysteries.

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