Thursday, October 15, 2015

The Kalahari Typing School for Men

The Kalahari Typing School for Men
by Alexander McCall Smith
Recommended Ages: 13+

In the fourth novel of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Mma Precious Ramotswe of Gaborone, Botswana works two paying detective cases. One is to help a successful man find and make amends to the people he wronged when he was a young scholarship student. The other is to satisfy the jealousy of a woman whose husband is cheating on her. But just as challenging, if not more so, are her personal conundrums, such as how to cope with an increasingly troubled foster son, helping her trusty assistant Mma Makutsi find romantic happiness, and staying in business while a new competitor, the Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency, is spreading the word that women are not cut out for the trade.

This is the installment when one of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's apprentice mechanics at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors gets religion in a Pentecostal church; when Mma Makutsi starts her own side business, only to have her head turned by a man who is not what he seems; and when the author himself seems to smile at his own main character out of a photo album shared by a real, live person who plays a minor recurring role in the series. Here the Scotland-based author gives us a clue as to where he mined these stories of Botswana manners, morals and minor mysteries.

Told with clarity and gentle humor, this story like others in its series presents a charming picture of an under-appreciated African country in recent times, peoples it with endearingly flawed characters, and challenges them with ethical dilemmas and emotionally explosive situations. That they come through all these with grace tells us something interesting, I think, about the character of their creator.

The audio-book read by Lisette Lecat was, as usual, a delight to the ears. As I write this I am already well into the next book in the sequence, The Full Cupboard of Life, which is followed by ten more. Its author has also published a three-book children's series featuring Harriet Bean, a five book ditto featuring an African boy named Akimbo, two Max and Maddy mysteries for young readers, ten or eleven Isabel Dalhousie mysteries, ten 44 Scotland Street novels, three Corduroy Mansions books, and four or five children's books featuring Precious Ramotswe, besides numerous other novels and several non-fiction titles including Who Invented Peanut Butter? and What W. H. Auden Can Do for You.

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