Monday, May 18, 2015

Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe by Alexander McCall Smith

Reviewed by Jeanne
Things have changed a great deal since Precious Ramotswe first opened the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, mostly for the better.  She’s now married with two adopted children.  Her former secretary, Grace Makutsi, is also married and a proud new mother. Mma Makutsi is also looking to expand her interests by opening a chic new cafĂ© where she expects all the best people will want to congregate.  She just needs to sign a lease, have some repairs on the building, find a chef, hire wait staff—minor details.  Her husband Phuti has a few misgivings, but realizes there are times when it’s best to just be supportive.

Unfortunately, business has been very slow at both the detective agency and at Tlokweng Speedy Motors, which means some belt-tightening will be on the way.  There’s only one case in the offing, but it’s a strange one:  a woman who claims not to remember who she is or where she’s from.  She doesn’t know where South Africa is but she knows that she take two lumps of sugar in her tea; she doesn’t remember father or mother or husband.  She’s been taken in by two kind people who ask Mma Ramotswe to make discrete inquiries to discover her identity, but Precious feels that there is more to the story than they’re telling.

Long time readers of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency will know that the joy is in the storytelling and in the characters rather than the mystery.  This entry is even more thoughtful than most, centering more on changes and growth in some of the cast.   For that reason, I wouldn’t recommend this as a starting point for those new to the series, but fans will find it very satisfying especially since two characters have some personal revelations that bode well for the future.  McCall Smith has gradually introduced more realistic aspects of modern life into the background--AIDs orphans, for example-- though the books remain warm and ultimately uplifting.  I’ve never had red bush tea, but I’d certainly try a cup so I could have a chat with the wonderful Mma Ramotswe. The books make me laugh, cry, and occasionally reflect, and I close the book feeling that everything will be all right in the world.

I do confess I wonder how his books are viewed in Botswana.  I'm sure the books have provided a boost to tourism.

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