Alexander McCall Smith •
The Kalahari Typing School for Men •
Legions of readers, me included, had only the vaguest idea where Botswana was until these books began appearing. But now and forevermore, it’s the territory of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and its intrepid founder, Mma Ramotswe, with her “traditional” build and heart to match.
I sometimes think I can’t read as fast as McCall Smith writes: He has three or four best-selling series running concurrently, and adds to them all at a breakneck pace. But to dismiss him as a writing machine is to belie the charm and originality of his creations. No machine could have produced Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, Botswana’s premier car mechanic and man of few words; the prickly Mma Makutsi, known far and wide for scoring 97 percent in the final examinations of the Botswana Secretarial College; and redoubtable Mma Potokwane, who will apparently stop at nothing to see that the orphaned children in her care are well provided for.
Such memorable characters make every trip to Botswana a joy for the reader. The books are filled with the unexpected and offbeat, each weaving together three or four subplots involving personal dilemmas as well as the agency’s challenges and triumphs. And Mma Ramotswe—not even her husband calls her by her first name—exhibits the same aplomb, resourcefulness, and common sense whether she’s facing crocodiles or con men, poisoners or parachute jumps.
Mma Makutsi, on learning that a new acquaintance works in a furniture shop, expresses her approval: “Where would we be if we had no chairs and tables?” she asks rhetorically (In the Company of Cheerful Ladies).
“We would be on the floor,” answers her companion.