Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Miracle at Speedy Motors

The Miracle at Speedy Motors
by Alexander McCall Smith
Recommended Ages: 13+

With Book 9 of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, I have just crossed the center line of what is currently a 16-book series featuring Botswana's only lady detective, her bespectacled assistant, her mechanic husband, and the rest of a cast of endearingly flawed recurring characters.

The agency's main case at the time of this installment is a search for a woman's family. She only learned at her mother's deathbed that she was adopted as a small child. She has no surviving family on her adoptive parents' side, and she doesn't know who her people are on her biological parents' side. Being without any relatives of any kind is strange in Botswana, where everyone seems to be related to everyone else in some degree. The lonely client asks Mma Precious Ramotswe to find her a family, but what Mma Ramotswe finds is not what they planned.

Meantime, her husband, the kindly Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, takes their foster-daughter, sweet-tempered but wheelchair-bound Motholeli, to Johannesburg in search of a miracle cure. Although Mma Ramotswe disapproves of this quest and the cruel hope it represents, she finds herself joining it in a moving, personal way.

As the rainy season closes in, Mma Ramotswe's assistant, Mma Grace Makutsi, makes a foolish mistake with the expensive bed her fiance bought her, and is tempted to let a lie come between them. And then there's the matter of a series of anonymous, threatening letters, almost leading Mma Ramotswe to do something terrible. The solution to this mystery, at least, relies on Mma Ramotswe's secret weapon: kindness - though it comes only after a rambunctiously silly chase scene through the aisles of a grocery store.

By now, part of the appeal of this series lies in the comforting sense of being in familiar surroundings. Yet at the same time, it teaches western readers to appreciate distinctive aspects of a culture very different from ours - one in which owning cattle is the ultimate security, in which calling "Ko, Ko" is an essential point of courtesy before entering a home or an office, and in which a certain disease casts an ever-present shadow, though it seems to be considered indelicate to call it by its name. I can call Book 10 by name, however, because I am already reading it: Tea Time for the Traditionally Built.

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