Mystery Books for Sale

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by Alexander McCall Smith
Alfred A. Knopf, November 2013
242 pages
$30.00 CAD
ISBN: 0307398307

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Alexander McCall Smith has a knack for finding titles and business names that reflect the tone of his series. The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, the This Way Up Building Company, the Clear Image Copies, all describe plainly and directly what the book or the commerce is about. Deceptively simple,

they tell of the day to day life of ordinary people.

The latest title refers to one of the two cases that Mma Ramotswe chooses to tackle. The owner of the new beauty salon has received a feather as a warning and someone is spreading rumours that the products she uses are toxic to her clients. Having just opened her new salon, she is already on the brink of bankruptcy if the person attacking her is not found and stopped soon. Then there is Mma Sheba, a lawyer who is reluctant to probate a will because she suspects that the young man named as heir to a farm is not who he pretends to be.

But Mma Ramotswe finds it difficult to work on solving these cases because her assistant, Mma Makutsi, is on maternity leave with her first-born, leaving her quite alone to think things through. Meanwhile Rra J.L.B. Maketoni, her husband, strives to become a better husband by embarking on a course at the University on "How To Be a Modern Husband (Level 1)."

This intertwining of private life and detecting is typical of this series which makes it more personal to the reader. In this one, the focus is on finding a good balance between traditions and the changing world, whether it be husband/wife relations, infant care, rearing children, earning a living… all matters of daily life. Although we are presented with the social evolution of Botswana, the reflections can easily be applied to any other society. It's one of the main pleasures of reading these chronicles that we can recognize elements of our lives and can identify with the characters, good or bad, because they are neither monsters nor saints. The notion of friendship also pervades the book, especially the friendship between women and how we depend on people close to us and too often tend to forget it. All this is done with wit, warmth and common sense. The focus may be on relationships but also on the solutions to the plot which may seem overly simple but are quite complex on a human scale. My only quibble is that there are often repetitions but somehow even that complements the style, much like a refrain in a song.

If you are not an addict of fast-paced, action-packed, violent mysteries, or if you want a change of pace, do try this series, preferably in order. If you do, there is a good chance that you will be bewitched.

§ Nicole Leclerc is a native Montrealer, avid reader, long time reviewer and moderator of the 4MA online discussion group.

Reviewed by Nicole Leclerc, December 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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