Having recently read two quite harrowing books in quick succession, I found myself feeling desperate for something relaxing and, dare I say it, a little more light hearted and enjoyable. Something I could gently engage in without feeling emotionally drained at the end of it.
Rather than turning to twitter for suggestions of what to read next; as is the way in these modern days (!), I turned to my own bookshelves and immediately found what I needed. A recent birthday gift. A book from the wonderful Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency collection. I love this series and have read all of the 13 books that come before The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon. A couple of Christmas’s ago I was given three; and I read them all one after another, in the same way I used to gobble up The Famous Five stories as a child. Something I do very infrequently these days.
If you have never met Mama Ramotswe, the owner of Botswana’s No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, (where have you been?), I highly commend her to you. In our frenetic digitally driven way of life, there is something infinitely reassuring about her no-nonsense-but-compassionate approach to the dilemmas and mysteries of life.
In this, the 14th instalment of Mma Ramotswe, we find her a little bereft as her associate detective Mma Makutsi is on maternity leave. She tries to cope singlehandedly as she tackles two difficult cases and of course the all important tea making duties. However, it is not long before Mma Makutsi finds herself, her new addition, and her talking shoes, drawn back to her employer, the office on the Tlokweng Road, and of course Mma Ramotswe’s husband, Mr J.L.B. Matekoni and his two apprentices. Together they set out to discover the author of a smear campaign against the Minor adjustment beauty salon as well as discovering the unexpected truth regarding the recipient of a local dignitary’s will.
Characters from previous novels are revisited, including a cameo from the second rate secretarial student Violet Sephotho. As always, tea drinking and food feature regularly, giving reassurance and comfort at just the right moment.
“She took a pumpkin out of the store cupboard and began to prepare it by splitting it with the heaviest of her kitchen knives. Pumpkin was something uncomplicated, something completely certain, and cooking a pumpkin, she felt was a good thing to do when you don’t know quite where you were”
McCall Smith writes so well about a land he obviously knows and loves. The heat of the Botswana sun, the dry, parched earth, and the welcome rains which eventually come, refreshing and revitalizing. He brings Africa to life in an unsentimental but very appealing way.
“Grey became purple, and purple shaded into black, to be obscured suddenly by white veils of rain, descending, fold upon fold, like great muslin curtains. There was then and distant forks of lightning joining sky to earth, the patter of the first drops, and then the steady roar of the downpour. There came the smell of laid dust and then lightning – the smell of electricity , if electricity had a smell. And finally the smell of rain, that watery scent that so lifted the heart of anybody who lived in a dry land”
These stories are easy to read, but that is not a criticism. They are so readable because they are so well written. Humor and sadness sit comfortably side by side, very much like the two lady detectives or indeed Mma Ramotswe and Rra Matekoni. Each a necessary part of the other. The characters are warm and inviting, and the stories contain an innocence that is often missing in so much of todays “hard-hitting” literature. McCall Smith writes without malice or contempt. There is joy and indeed friendship to be found between these pages.
If you have yet to discover the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, I urge you to track them down.