Alexander McCall Smith has written over 20 books in his series about The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and each one is like a perfect little piece of Mma Potokwane’s fruit cake and a refreshing cup of tea. I am reading this particular book in the time of the novel coronavirus when a bit of Mma Romatswe’s Botswana wisdom and her solid home-grown values are a perfect antidote to the fears of contagion and social isolation.
The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is one of the faux families we create sometimes when we are in close contact with the same people every day, in this case Mma’s employees, and because her office is in the same building as her husband, Rra J.L.B. Matekoni’s, mechanic business, this small work-family includes her husband’s employees.
The cases that Mma Romatswe and Makutsi take on are often small family matters such as infidelity or money matters. But this time there is a matter that is somewhat more serious. Some developers want to build a hotel over what was a graveyard. Although Precious Romatswe has no desire to run for the empty seat on the Gabarone council, her strong feeling for traditional Botswana customs, and a lot of pressure from her work family sees her signing the application and running for office.
A customer at Tlokweng Motors also reveals that he was a victim in a hit and run accident in a smaller Botswana village. And Charlie, a handsome young man who turns out to be a fairly hopeless mechanic, but a somewhat lucky assistant detective finds Queenie-Queenie, who seems to be the girl of his dreams. These homey stories, and more, are surprisingly absorbing and I find that these characters have become a kind of faux family to me. If you crave a little sincerity and kindness in your day you will find it in The Colors of All the Cattle by Alexander McCall Smith. I hope the real people of Botswana have not been affected very deeply by the COVID19 virus.
Alexander McCall Smith has been writing The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series of books for more than a decade and I love them all. These stores remind me that there is still sweetness in this chaotic and sometimes wicked world of ours. Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi Radiphuti rarely have dangerous crimes to untangle. They are often called upon to clear up domestic difficulties, misunderstandings, or familial treacheries. Mma Ramotswe and her cohort (although somewhat eccentric) generally solve these delicate situations and sometimes set other things straight along the way.
In this current novel, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, Mma Makutsi forces Mma Ramotswe to take a vacation. When a case comes in and when it seems to have been placed in the lap of the perhaps-too-softhearted part-time pinch hitter Rra Polopetsi, Mma Ramotswe almost puts her friendship with Mma Makutsi in jeopardy. She proves that she is not good at vacationing. But her vacation gives her time to think some very good thoughts that remind her about her blessings:
“She gazed at her husband, Being loved and admired by a man like that – and she knew this man, this mechanic, this fixer of machines with their broken hearts, did indeed love and admire her – was like walking in sunshine; it gave the same feeling of warmth and pleasure to bask in the love of one who has promised it, publicly at a wedding ceremony, and who is constant in his promise that such love will be given for the rest of his days. What more could any woman ask? None of us, she thought, not one single one of us, could ask for anything more than that.”
Perhaps we don’t all agree with this sentiment and we might be inclined to want this and still want more, however, the emotion of this expression of marital love gives us hope that goodness will win out over evil and that we still inhabit a moral universe.
Even though this is the sixteenth novel in the series I don’t think I will ever tire of visiting my fictional friends in Gaborone, Botswana.