To the followers of this bestselling series, it comes as no surprise when the title contains "Big Tent Wedding Party" and "Saturday" that the date has been set for Precious Ramotswe's assistant, Grace Makutsi, to get married. This was not a sure thing when last we tuned in. Grace's fiancé, the rich and handsome Gabarone businessman Phuti Radiphuti, was spirited away by his auntie after a serious accident in which he nearly lost his life, and ultimately his foot. His doting auntie disapproved of his marriage to what she considered an inferior woman, a mere secretary. But the love and determination of our two fearless lady detectives prevailed, and the big day is at hand.
Not without adventures, though. Mma Ramotswe uncharacteristically takes on a murder investigation of a sort. The cases that cross the desk of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency are rarely felonious. The agency's brand of detecting leans toward working things out in a civil manner, leaving the solving of murders to the police. But cattle are highly valued in Botswanan society, and her new client is a rancher who has lost two of his valuable animals to a vicious attacker who appears to have a vendetta against him. Further, the rancher is suspiciously reluctant to take the case to the police. Precious, who can spot a lie and its author from a thousand yards, also knows that uncovering the truth is not always as simple. This mysterious case leads down many twisted paths of misinformation, and she must finally settle for resolution rather than a solution. This, as we all know, is her area of expertise.
The beloved tiny white van --- mourned by Precious after her husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, known as the best mechanic in Botswana, declared it beyond repair and consigned it to a junk dealer --- suddenly appears out of a cloud of dust before disappearing over a hill. Precious gives chase in her sparkling new van, which serves her purposes perfectly, but it's NOT her tiny white van. The spectral van, complete with an identifying dent in the fender, vanishes while she wonders out loud if machines have ghosts. After Grace spots it, and then Charlie, the apprentice mechanic in her husband's garage, sees it, the hunt is on.
Meanwhile, the incorrigible Charlie has finally gone too far. He is accused of fathering the twins of the daughter of a prominent local businessman, and a reckoning is called for. Confronted with the information and possible consequences, Charlie, true to form, disappears, and it falls on Precious to sort it all out.
In preparing for her wedding, Grace is confronted with one last important acquisition --- the right shoes. She has a special relationship with her shoes and has been known to carry on conversations with them. This pair is no exception, and she's confronted with a quandary with her husband-to-be.
THE SATURDAY BIG TENT WEDDING PARTY is another delightful visit to Botswana through the eyes and heart of the man who may love it more than any other author. There are lovely passages of the sights, sounds and smells of the country he loves, or loved in its glory days. There are also ruminations about the inevitable changes that modernization is bringing to the old customs. Alexander McCall Smith has created a memoir of a country and its people that has charmed its readers through 11 volumes. There is no one quite like Mma Ramotwse and her friends who live on Zebra Lane.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on March 28, 2011