Monday, January 4, 2016

Blue Shoes and Happiness

Blue Shoes and Happiness
by Alexander McCall Smith
Recommended Ages: 13+

Being a detective in Gaborone, Botswana, isn't all about solving crimes. It isn't even mostly about solving crimes. For Mma Precious Ramotswe, it is often about resolving personal problems, such as (in previous books) a conflict between a brother- and sister-in-law, or helping a guilty man find the girl he wronged long ago so he can make amends. In this installment of Mma Ramotswe's adventures, however, she actually does look into the doings of some lawbreakers, such as a blackmailer, a cook who is stealing food from the university, and a doctor whose tampering with his own patients' records hints at some deeper wrongdoing.

But against these small opportunities for Mma Ramotswe to display her cleverness are some prime examples of her wisdom and kindness, as she shows tact toward one assistant whose obsession with shoes could become a distraction from her work, and deals gently with another subordinate whose impetuous actions lead to a minor tragedy.

The series also goes through one of its creepier passages in this book, as Mma Ramotswe digs into the mystery of why everyone at a certain game preserve seems frightened of something. Could it be witchcraft again? While the answer is never what you expect, the process of finding it is reliably full of colorful dialogue, character touches, and descriptive passages evoking scenic beauty, laced with frequent doses of warm-hearted reflection on the foibles of humanity and the underappreciated virtues of Botswana.

The seventh novel of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency adds little that is new to the series, but continues to provide the thoughtful, amusing, and sometimes puzzling hours of entertainment fans of the series have come to expect. I found it satisfying enough to stick with the series in spite of the fact that the local library's audiobook of this installment was less satisfactory than the others, for two reasons: first, narrator Adjoa Andoh's vocal performance was less flattering to the characters, though her dialects were on point; second, unlike the CDs narrated by the much-easier-on-the-ears Lisette Lecat, the edition with Andoh was abridged. Happily, my local library's copy of Book 8, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, returns to the superior Lecat version.

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