In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Mma Ramotswe is not only the first lady detective to open a
practice in Botswana, she's also the wisest. There is no problem
too complex for her to resolve. She fixes bad marriages, settles
employer/employee labor disputes, finds lost persons, uncovers
fraud and corruption, and straightens out wayward youth with such
aplomb and grace that she rapidly is becoming a legend in the land.
No one can measure up to her insightful observations and Socratic
wisdom when it comes to solving other people's problems.
In her latest adventure, however, problems come to roost on her own
doorstep. She stumbles across a home intruder, her tiny white van
is stolen, and a long-forgotten ghost from her past comes back to
haunt her and threaten her marriage to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. All of
her perception and sleuthing skills are tested as she grapples with
her own demons in this, perhaps the most intricately plotted novel
in this charming series.
Things are changing at the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which is
housed in her husband's auto repair shop. Business is flourishing
for both, but when one of the apprentice mechanics runs off with a
rich woman in a Mercedes, they need to hire new help. Mma Ramotswe
is involved in an auto accident with an out-of-luck gentleman, and
a candidate for employment enters the story. Mma Makutsi, Assistant
Detective, decides to improve her social life by attending dancing
lessons and meets a man with two left feet who wants to steal her
heart, which complicates things for all.
Mma Ramotswe is dedicated to civility in all things. She can
forgive most transgressions, and her resolutions to the knotty
problems that come through her doorway elevate her diplomatic
skills to the level of an international mediator. Yet, when
confronted with the one event in her life that could destroy
everything she's worked to accomplish, she is up against the wall.
It takes the skills of her assistant, Mma Makutsi, and the new
apprentice mechanic, who turns out to have superb detective skills,
to extricate our heroine from disaster.
Especially amusing are Mma Ramotswe's droll comments. She observes,
as she muses over her household intruder's intentions, that robbery
may have been the motive. She stares at a velvet painting, a
favorite of her husband's but not of hers, as she assesses the
potential losses should a robbery take place. "…indeed, if
they ever did have a burglary, when everything was taken, she was
sure that the picture would somehow be left, and she would have to
look at it while she sat on cushions on the floor, all the chairs
To label Alexander McCall Smith's homage to his adopted country,
Botswana, as cozies is to give them short shrift. The No. 1 Ladies'
Detective Agency mysteries are witty and perceptive observations on
a culture and morality that is in retreat from the wave of
modernization in this sun-drenched, peaceful African nation. More
than mysteries, they are gentle examinations of the human
condition. The voice of the novels is written in the cadences of
the African veldt, and one can almost hear the lilting accents and
gracious phrases used to convey meaning beyond mere words.
Smith has injected new energy into his mystery series, a welcome
event after THE FULL CUPBOARD OF LIFE, which seemed to run out of
plot and ideas at the halfway point. IN THE COMPANY OF CHEERFUL
LADIES does what any good mystery does --- entertains, informs and
entices you to keep turning the pages.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 22, 2011