Monday, February 29, 2016

The Double Comfort Safari Club

The Double Comfort Safari Club
by Alexander McCall Smith
Recommended Ages: 13+

The eleventh book of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency confronts Mma Precious Ramotswe with three variations on the theme of an unhappy woman. One is a lady who wants proof that her husband is cheating on her, even though he isn't. Another is the domineering aunt of Mr. Phuti Radiphuti, fiance of assistant detective Mma Grace Makutsi, who refuses to let Mma Makutsi see him while he recovers from an accident that cost him part of one leg. Then there is Mma Makutsi's nemesis, Violet Sepotho, whose latest scheme may cost a well-meaning man his house, unless Mma Ramotswe can come up with a legal way around an iron-clad contract.

While the solution to one of these problems depends on the pushiness of orphan-farm matron Mma Sylvia Potokwane, it is the soft-hearted kindness of Mma Ramotswe that prevails in most circumstances. Mma Makutsi has an opportunity to appreciate the amazing gentleness of that lady as she sympathizes with the nastiest people, simply because they are unhappy.

The biggest case for the agency, however, is a matter of a very happy woman - an American lady who has recently become late, to borrow a whimsical phrase familiar from the earlier books in this Botswana-based series. Author McCall Smith, himself a native of Africa, finally gets around to explaining why this euphemism for death is used: it has a way of making one feel still connected to people who have passed away. The late American lady felt connected to a tour guide on an African safari, and now the executor of his will wants Mma Ramotswe's help finding that guide, so he can receive a gift of $3,000.

Mma Ramotswe's kindness makes her the right person for this happy mission, though it means a long and perilous journey into a remote part of Botswana, accompanied by her trusty assistant. Mma Makutsi, who often hears her shoes talking to her, was glad to come along on her first-ever business trip because it involved the purchase of a new pair of boots; but the chances of meeting a lion, or a panther, or a crocodile, or a hippo, leave her scared stiff while the boss tries to work out which tour guide deserves to inherit $3,000. Recognizing a good man proves to be easier than determining which one is the right man - but kindness, as always, finds a way.

The series continues to make me happy with its gentle wit, its descriptive exploration of previously unvisited scenery, and its unmocking portrayal of lovable characters who enjoy a somewhat simpler and more graceful life in this age of hurry and rudeness. There is an innocence about them that makes one feel protective of them, even though they have already borne experiences many of us are spared. It is a good series to read if you want to see a bigger world and to feel the concerns you live with are small indeed. Next in the sequence is The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party.

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