Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, by Alexander McCall Smith

In this latest of the Number One Ladies' Detective Agency Series, Alexander McCall Smith has once again conveyed the themes his loyal readers have come to expect. With flashes of humour, he holds up the mirror of human imperfection, yet does so as gently as the boiling of the stews we frequently see on the stove of Mma Ramotswe.

This time, the gently boiling stew of the newly married Grace Makutsi is featured, as she and her husband Phuti Radhiphuti entertain an illustrious guest. Her persoanl flaws of vanity, ambition, and outspokenness come sharply into focus; yet we love and forgive her. After all, without that ambition, Grace might have remained a poor girl down in Bobonong. She might never have gone to secretarial college at all, never have achieved the pinnacle of 97% in the exams, never have met Mma Ramotswe, or joined the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

Through the crisis of the orphan farm matron, Mma Potokwane, we are shown the difficulties that arise when "the lips say one thing and the heart says another." We are reminded to find time to pursue old dreams, and that "'the human pretty much the same wherever one goes.'"

This novel returns again and again to the small but simple things that matter. With a frazzled Mma Ramotswe, we enjoy calming cups of bush tea, and watch with relief as it "begin to do its work" of soothing the drinker. We are reminded of the simple joy of sharing food. Out in the bush, we see three women friends at a tiny rural outpost, sitting beside a fire, enjoying a meal together within a stone's throw of the mysterious Kalahari.

In Mma Ramostswe's garden, we are treated, along with her guest, to a view of a tree with its "very fine" leaves, a salubrious reminder of the earth who feeds us.

Thanks to the carpenter, Thomas, we experience the vicarious satisfaction of seeing a cheater get his comeuppance without fanfare. And thanks to Clovis Anderson's strange confession, we see again the depth of Mma Ramotswe's understanding heart, her ability to bring comfort to the places it is needed, to remind us to be grateful for our many simple blessings.

Occasionally, unmistakeable intrusions of the author's voice are what move the reader to laughter, as when Phuti innocently suggests that the reason for Clovis Anderson's sadness is that he writes books, citing as evidence for this view the "sad-looking photographs of authors on the covers."

Above all the human activity, both bumbling and graceful, there is the unbroken blue of the Botswana sky. The themes of the story are underpinned by the logic, wisdom and values of old Botswana.

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