Reviewed by Jeanne
While business --paying customers, at least--may be a bit slow at the Number One Ladies Detective Agency, there is still a lot going on. For one thing, there is the puzzle of how to delicately inquire about Mma Makutsi’s obvious pregnancy which she has studiously refrained from mentioning. On the one hand, a child would be a cause for celebration for the one-time secretary (now assistant/ associate detective, depending who is asked) and her devoted husband, but it skirts the matter of whether or not she will continue to work with Mma Precious Ramotswe. This may be the end of their long-time association.
Meanwhile, there are a couple of cases waiting for attention. A well-known female attorney has approached the Agency with what may be a case of stolen identity. The attorney has a will drawn up by a late client who is leaving his farm to a nephew, but the lawyer isn’t sure that the claimant is the right person. Could this be an imposter out to steal an inheritance that should belong to another? And how can it be proven, one way or another? Secondly, it seems someone is out to frighten away the owner of a new beauty salon by sending her threatening items, and starting rumors that her salon might be hazardous to one’s appearance.
Some series wear out their welcome. What was once fresh becomes formulaic, as characters and plots follow the same path book after book. Somehow Alexander McCall Smith has avoided that particular rut while keeping the warmth, humor, and charm that drew me to the books in the first place. Granted, there is some measure of predictability: we know there will be red bush tea, that there will be shoes, and there will be minor crimes to be solved through Precious’s observations and knowledge of human nature. On the other hand, the characters have grown and changed while remaining true to their natures. Relationships have changed, but this has happened in a slow and believable way which is a testament to McCall Smith’s own insights into human nature. The setting itself has also changed with the times just a bit, letting political, economic, and health issues intrude just enough to remind us that this is indeed a real place, not a fantasy. This is done without sacrificing the strong love of place that runs through these books.
If you’re in the mood for a gentle, positive book with an exotic setting and memorable characters, by all means give the Number One Ladies Detective Agency series a try.