Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Posts Tagged ‘Alexander McCall Smith’

To the Land of Long Lost Friends

Posted by nliakos on May 6, 2020

by Alexander McCall Smith (Pantheon Books 2019)

In the continuing saga of Mma Ramotswe, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, Mma Makutsi, Mma Potokwane, and Charlie the forever-apprentice-mechanic/assistant detective, this advances the plot a little bit (by the conclusion, it looks as though Charlie will be able to marry his girlfriend Queenie-Queenie) and presents a couple of different plotlines. Mma Ramotswe’s childhood friends Calviniah and Poppy each have a problem. Calviniah’s daughter has inexplicably turned against her, and Poppy has given too much money to a suspiciously successful itinerant preacher named Flat Ponto. With the help of Mma Makutsi, Mma Potokwane, and Charlie, all is resolved in the final chapter. There is a lot of eating and a suffering orphan child to love (temporarily, it seems). Not very memorable, but a pleasant read.

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Catching up with Mma Ramotswe

Posted by nliakos on December 21, 2019

I used to listen to the audio books of Alexander McCall Smith’s delicious No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series every year as they came out. Somehow, retirement got in the way; even before I retired in 2015, I started taking the bus to work and reading books instead of listening to them. So I somehow forgot about Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, and all the rest. But now I have Libby! Libby (for Mac devices look here)is a new (for me, anyway) app I can use to borrow e-books from my public library. I got a lesson from one of the librarians last week, and when I got home, j had the idea to check for new No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency titles. There are six–one for each year that I missed. So while I wait for Birds, Beasts, and Relatives by Gerald Durrell, I am catching up with Mma Ramotswe and friends.

The first one I got was The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (2013). In it, Mma Makutsi has a baby, and Mma Ramotswe is forced to acknowledge just how much she depends on her secretary turned assistant detective turned associate detective. As that story unfolds, the agency deals with two new cases: a contested inheritance and a case of intimidation. Meanwhile, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is persuaded that he should help his wife more at home–that he should be a more “modern” husband. To this end, he attempts to mash raw potatoes and other interesting recipes, and Precious needs to be very diplomatic. (Nov. 11)

The second one was The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe (2014). That what Mma Makutsi decides to call her new restaurant. Uncharacteristically, she allows herself to be duped by some shady characters and ends up with a chef who can’t cook and a waitstaff who delight in being rude to the customers. Her nemesis, Violet Sephotho, then writes a scathing review of the new restaurant (but probably anyone else would have written a similarly poor review because the restaurant was really a disaster), but Mma Ramotswe and Mma Potokwane manage to sort everything out in the final chapter. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is forced to let Charlie, the eternal apprentice, go due to a shrinking workload, and Mma Ramotswe feels obligated to offer him a job with the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, even though she can’t afford it, either. Of course, Charlie and Mma Makutsi are constantly in each other’s faces as Charlie becomes first an apprentice detective, then an assistant secretary, then a clerk and finally again a secretary at the agency. And Mma Ramotswe handles an intriguing case about an Indian woman with amnesia. (Nov. 14)

Number 3 in my catch-up series of Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books is The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine (2015). In this one, Mma Ramotswe is pressured by Mma Makutsi to take a vacation, which she has never done before. Reluctantly, she gives up the reins of the agency to Mma Makutsi (despite her misgivings), who will be assisted by ex-mechanic apprentice Charlie (who has been laid off by Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni and subsequently hired by Mma Ramotswe) and by Mr. Polopetsi, the former pharmacist and now part-time chemistry teacher who used to assist the ladies in their work and who comes back to volunteer his services while Mma Ramotswe is away. But Mma Ramotswe is unsuited to vacations. She feels at loose ends and is tormented by the desire to know what is going on at the agency without her. When Mr. Polopetsi secretly consults her about a difficult case he claims Mma Makutsi has foisted off on him, Mma Ramotswe has the excuse she needed to get back in the game, but it must be done delicately, so as not to insult the famously prickly Mma Makutsi. In the end, Mma Makutsi proves to be more capable than Mma Ramotswe perhaps realized. Along the way, Mma Ramotswe rescues a little boy trapped in an abusive home and manages to reunite him with his mother, as well as to settle him at the Orphan Farm with Mms Potokwane. (Nov. 23)

Precious and Grace (2016) shines a light on the changing relationship between Mma Precious Ramotswe, owner and founder of the Number 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and her partner (formerly secretary, then assistant detective), Grace Makutsi. Mild-mannered Precious seeks to avoid conflict (although we know from previous novels that she is not afraid to confront troublemakers and even to threaten them in order to force them to do the right thing), while Grace seems to thrive on it, and she has a dangerous habit of speaking her mind before she thinks through all the possible consequences. Precious keeps an open mind while Grace tends to leap to conclusions and has a hard time admitting that she might be wrong. These differences show up as they try to help a Canadian woman named Susan locate her former nanny, Rosie, and the house where her family lived in Gaborone. After an announcement in the newspaper brings not one but many women claiming to be the Rosie who took care of Susan, Grace assumes that they are all liars, while Precious is inclined to believe the first one.  Precious and Grace make plans to attend a dinner honoring Botswana’s Woman of the Year, with Grace’s longtime enemy, Violet Sepotho, in contention for the honor. Meanwhile, Mr. Polopetsi has gotten himself into hot water by investing in a pyramid scheme, leaving Precious to sort it out, and Fanwell runs over a stray dog, which decides to adopt him. Fanwell cannot take the dog to the place where he lives with his uncle’s family in very close quarters, and Precious tries to figure out a solution, while Grace insists that dogs do not have souls, so it doesn’t really matter what happens to the dog. The most challenging case is that of Susan and Rosie, which turns out to be not as it first appeared, the grateful adult child returning to thank the beloved nanny. But in the end, the dog finds a home; Mr Polopetsi makes amends to those he has cluelessly swindled and even finds the perfect part-time job in the police crime lab; and Susan makes her peace with the past. Moreover, Grace finds herself able to see Violet Sepotho’s triumph in a new light, thanks to Precious’ gentle reasoning.

I started The House of Unexpected Sisters (2017) while I was not yet finished with Precious and Grace because I was listening to P&G on CD book (reveling in the unhurried narration of Lisette Lecat), which takes longer. When I read the text, I tend to rush through it, even though I try not to; it’s the same bad habit which renders me incapable of appreciating most poetry. Anyway, the main cases in Unexpected Sisters involve a woman dismissed from her job on false pretenses and Mma Ramotswe’s discovery of a hitherto unknown woman who shares her last name, which is quite rare. Underlying these story lines is the infamous Note Mokoti, former husband and abuser of Mma Ramotswe, back in Gaborone from South Africa for unknown reasons and causing Mma Ramotswe a great deal of concern. Of these, the most interesting is the mysterious Mingie Ramotswe, who (SPOILER ALERT!) turns out to be Mma Ramotswe’s half-sister, and due to a clerical error, Mma Ramotswe’s image of her “daddy” as a perfect human being is severely shaken. She rejects Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s attempts to help her as she struggles with renewed grief and loss. McCall Smith quietly includes the issue of same-sex marriage/partnership as a part of this story line. (Mma Ramotswe, of course, harbors no anti-gay prejudice.) The case of the fired sales clerk is resolved when Mma Ramotswe discovers that the boss has been straying with the vile Violet Sepotho and goes to talk to his wife; and she is spared having to confront Note Mokoti by the ever-helpful Mma Potokwane, who reports that he has turned over a new leaf and left Gaborone again.

I read The Colours of All the Cattle (2018) in three different formats. First I borrowed the e-book on Libby. Then I tried out a new technology called Playaway  from the library: a little plastic device about the size of an iPod holding one audiobook. The borrower provides earbuds and a AAA battery. The controls were simple and Lisette Lecat’s reading delightful as always, but unfortunately the device did not work as intended. It kept shutting down, and each time it did that, I had to restore my speed and volume settings. Then it stopped going back to the place it had stopped, requiring that I search over and over for my place in the book. Way more frustrating than I was prepared to deal with! Then I forgot I already had the e-book on my tablet, so I borrowed an old-fashioned book. I finished the book both ways. You can believe I will tell the library staff about my less-than-ideal experience with Playaway when I return it!

The story features three interwoven plots. One of these is the case of Dr. Marang, a kindly doctor from Mma Ramotswe’s home village of Mochudi, who was struck by a hit-and-run driver and badly injured, leading to many expenses for which he would like to be compensated. Mma Ramotswe is at first confounded by the seeming impossibility of finding the driver of a car the good doctor could only describe as “blue”, but with the assistance of Charlie, she is able to resolve the case satisfactorily. The second plot is the relationship between Charlie and a beautiful young lady named Queenie-Queenie, daughter of the owner of a large trucking business. Queenie-Queenie hides her family’s wealth and prestige from Charlie, but when he finds out, he becomes discouraged, believing that her family will never allow her to marry such a poor man without cattle for a bride-price. Perhaps the main story involves Mma Ramotswe’s adventure into local politics when she allows herself to be persuaded to run for a seat on the Gaborone City Council by Mma Potokwane, who opposes the construction of the Big Fun Hotel next to the cemetery where her mother is interred, and by Mma Makutsi, whose main goal is to ensure the defeat of Violet Sephotho, her longtime enemy, who is also running (or standing, as they say in Botswana) for the seat. Mma Ramotswe immediately regrets having agreed to stand for the Council and does her best to back out of her commitment, but in the end, she goes through with it (although she is incapable of voting for herself, which feels horribly immodest to her). Despite (or perhaps because of) an exceedingly modest campaign slogan (“I am not much, but I promise you I’ll do my best.”), she wins the election but is neatly rescued from actually having to serve on the Council once Mma Potokwane’s wish to stop the hotel construction has been fulfilled. That’s typical of the series: the solutions are invariably easy and neat. The first person you suspect is often the culprit, unlike in more traditional mysteries. (If I were a cataloguer in a library, I might not classify these as mysteries at all!) What makes the books so delightful is not how the crimes are solved or the mysteries untangled; it is what happens in between–the simple conversations between husbands and wives, or Mma Ramotswe’s thoughts as she seeks to escape from the world of politics she is suddenly thrust into. These make Botswana seem like a simpler place than the one we inhabit, even though it also has corrupt politicians, dishonest people, and schemers.

I’ve just discovered that there is a 2019 book in the series, but Libby can’t guarantee I will get it before 13 weeks, so I’m going to go ahead and publish this post!


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Trains and Lovers

Posted by nliakos on April 8, 2016

by Alexander McCall Smith (Anchor Books 2012; ISBN 978-0-345-80581-2)

The always fertile mind of the author of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series has here braided together the love stories of four individuals traveling on a train from Edinburgh to London together. Two are middle-aged: David, an American, and Kay, an Australian. The other two are young men in their twenties: Andrew, a Scot, and Hugh, an Englishman. Andrew begins the conversation with a comment about a fishing boat to Kay, and they begin to talk; the other two are drawn in to the conversation. Each man recalls his love (for David, a closeted homo (or bi-) sexual, it is a story in his past; Hugh and Andrew are living their stories. Kay recounts the story of how her Scottish father emigrated to Australia and how he met and married her mother.

The book made for pleasant reading on my trip to and from Baltimore by bus and light rail (how relevant!), but it’s kind of lightweight. Easy to read, easy to forget.

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The Forgotten Affairs of Youth

Posted by nliakos on March 1, 2013

As I noted in my last post on an Isabel Dalhousie book (The Lost Art of Gratitude), I needed to catch up in this series. I’ve since looked for The Charming Quirks of Others on a couple of occasions, but it has never been on the shelf, and I confess I did not place a hold on it. Finally, last week I borrowed this one and the next (latest) one, The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds. I’m pretty obsessive about reading books in order but it just didn’t happen this time, and no reference was made in the book alluding to any momentous event in the last one, so I guess it doesn’t matter.

I started the book on the bus going to work this morning and finished it before dinner. It’s fairly innocuous. Isabel helps a fellow philosopher to find information about her birth parents, and Isabel and Jamie finally tie the knot at the Canongate Kirk in Edinburgh. Isabel makes a killing on the stock market and gives it all away. Charlie, now 2 1/2, still has a taste for olives and now likes mashed sardines. It’s pleasant reading, but forgettable. Still, I read on.

I thought I had blogged about most of the books I’ve read since I started the blog in late 2006, but this series was launched in 2004 (and I didn’t read them right away), yet I find only one previous post.  Here’s a complete list. I’ve read them all except the aforementioned Charming Quirks. And I do like them–though not as much as The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series!

The Sunday Philosophy Club Series

also known as Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries


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