Review

The Full Cupboard of Life: More From the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

by Alexander McCall Smith

We now return to Botswana, "the fortunate country." At least according to Mma Ramotswe, founder and chief detective of the No 1. Ladies' Detective Agency. Mma Ramotswe lives in Gabarone, the only city in this country the size of Texas, where the hustle and bustle for a foreigner seems like a race between two snails. But for someone like the traditionally sized Mma, it is still too frantic, causing her to long for weekend visits to her village home. For all Batswana, Mma believes, "those quiet days in the village would prove to be the best time for them."

So we know that, although many hours may pass, not a great deal will occur. We will relax and drink bush tea and think carefully about things, knowing that the facts of the case will present themselves with clarity after a suitable wait.

Mma Ramotswe is feeling that it may be time for her fiancé, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, to make good on his promise to marry her. Money is no object. The good Mma has cattle left to her by her father. But Mr. Matekoni, proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, is caught up in events in his own life, such as being asked to do a sponsored parachute jump by the very convincing Mma Potokwani, matron of the orphan farm. His intentions are good, but he is a little unclear when it comes to the details of the actual wedding and the setting of a date.

Since time passes very, very slowly in Botswana, each of the delightful books in this series by Alexander McCall Smith, who grew up in the region, gives a gracefully unfolding panorama of small, seemingly insignificant happenings in the lives of its central characters. In so doing he illustrates what Mma Ramotswe would teach if she were a teacher and not the proprietress of a successful sleuthing service. If you slow down and look at each thing lovingly and carefully, you will find the answers you seek.

In this case, the highly respected Mma has been asked to examine the motives of the four suitors of another dynamic woman, Mma Holonga, owner of a chain of hair braiding emporia. Mma Holonga, being successful, is also wealthy, and fears her suitors may be interested only in her money. So she has consulted with Mma Ramotswe, who promises to investigate each man with care and try to determine who is most sincere in his interest. "Men are always looking at women and judging them," Mma Ramotswe declares with delight, "Now we have the chance to do some judging back."

In the end, Mma Ramotswe's labors on behalf of Mma Holonga will backfire, in a curious and fitting way, so that she will be bemused but not befuddled. And Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni will find himself moved towards that inevitable moment of tying the knot with Mma Ramotswe, not against his will but in spite of his tardiness in dealing with details. And this will also be all right because "there is no other lady I would ever wish to marry."

In the midst of all this high intrigue and unbridled romance, Mma Ramotswe's secretary finds a new home and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's apprentice comes into his own. And the choir sings Nkosi Sikeleli Afrika, "the sweet voices of the children rising through the branches of the tree above them, and filling the still, clear air with sound."

Reviewed by Barbara Bamberger Scott on January 22, 2011

The Full Cupboard of Life: More From the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
by Alexander McCall Smith

  • Publication Date: April 20, 2004
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon
  • ISBN-10: 0375422188
  • ISBN-13: 9780375422188