The Barnes & Noble Review
Mma Precious Ramotswe, founder of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, is a full-figured lady with a very busy and happy life. She has work that challenges and fulfills her. She's engaged to one of the finest mechanics in Botswana -- a man she respects and loves. Her home on Zebra Drive pleases her. Her assistant and protégée, Mma Makutsi (founder of the Kalahari Typing School for Men), is flourishing. And Precious is enjoying managing the lives of the two foster children her fiancé brought to her from the orphan farm. All told, her cupboard of life is practically bursting with blessings.
Of course, even the happiest life has some troubles…and right now Precious has her share of those as well. In this fifth volume of the bestselling series by Alexander McCall Smith, marriage is much on Mma Ramotswe's mind. She's somewhat concerned that, despite the fact she's been engaged to Mr J.L.B. Matekoni for some time now and is absolutely certain of his affection, her beloved has proven most unwilling to set a date to make her the happiest of women. At present, even work offers her little distraction. The case that currently occupies her attention involves still more matrimonial problems, notably checking up on several potential suitors vying for the hand of a wealthy lady who owns a chain of hair braiding salons. Precious knows that her own suitor is an honorable gentleman who would never marry for money or prove otherwise unworthy of any trust that has been placed in him. But it's still not easy for her to be spending so much time in the company of men who do not live by such high standards. And it's worrying her that Mr J.L.B. Matekoni seems to have several other concerns that he's allowing to take precedence over their long-delayed matrimonial plans. Of course, it's only natural for him to be absorbed in properly training the all-too-distractible apprentices in his charge. And it is also perfectly understandable that he would be preoccupied about making the parachute jump for charity that the matron of the orphan farm has arranged. And anyone would worry about confronting the unscrupulous mechanics that did such a terrible job on the valuable old car that is now in his care.
Fortunately, Mma Ramotswe is strong in the traditional Botswanan values of honesty, generosity, and kindness. That makes her a formidable ally for her friends and her clients…and a fearsome opponent for anyone who fails to meet her expectations about proper behavior and responsibility. Alexander McCall Smith was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and was a law professor at the University of Botswana before relocating to Scotland. His knowledge of and affection for the land and people of Africa comes through clearly in the rich descriptions and captivating characters that have made his No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series an international phenomenon. Sue Stone
The New York Times
The Full Cupboard of Life is by no means oppressively sweet, but it is committed to looking on life's sunny side. And its characters, like the one who watches a special mango ripen on a tree, have a primitivism that is as reductive as it is warm. At one point, someone suggests that "How to Get 97 Percent" would be an appealing title for a book. It's one that could easily be applied to Mr. Smith's big-hearted Botswanan stories.
Smith once again transports readers to Gaborone, capital of Botswana, home to the gentle but no-nonsense Precious Ramotswe, who relies as much on her intuition as on the facts in her masterful crime-solving.Kathy Balog
Precious Ramotswe is on the case again in this delightful fifth installment in the bestselling No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, this time assisting the self-made founder of a chain of hairdressing salons who wants to unearth the real intentions of her four suitors, each possibly more interested in her money than her heart. As fans know, though, sleuthing takes second place to folksy storytelling in McCall Smith's wry novels. This time around, Mma Ramotswe is distracted by her long-prolonged engagement to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, Gaborone's best mechanic; it seems she will never be married, despite her fianc 's honorable intentions. He installs an extra large seatbelt in her car to keep her safe (she is quite comfortable with her "traditional build," despite the new, slender fashion of modern woman), but an altercation with another mechanic and the prospect of a charity parachute jump keep his mind off matrimony. A drive for decency motivates Mma Ramotswe and her friends-among them Mma Potokwani, the imperious matron of the local orphan farm, and Mma Makutsi, assistant at the Ladies' Detective Agency and founder of the Kalahari Typing School for Men-and Smith's talent is in portraying this moral code in a manner that is always engaging. As readers will appreciate, Mma Ramotswe solves her cases-more questions of character, really, than of criminal behavior-in good time. Traditionally built ladies living in the African heat don't tend to hurry, and, at the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, there's always time for another cup of tea. Agent, Robin Straus. (Apr. 20) Forecast: Fans will love the surprise in store for Precious Ramotswe at the end of the novel, and should bump this on bestseller lists. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Thankfully, Mma Precious Ramotswe is back in another delightful adventure. The fifth book in Smith's popular "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series finds Precious humorously and intuitively pondering her status as the longtime fianc e of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, as the primary guardian of two children from the orphan farm, and, of course, as the proprietress of Botswana's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. In addition to her personal life, Mma Precious has taken on the professional tasks of screening suitors for a wealthy salon owner and getting Mr. Matekoni out of a precarious situation. Returning with Mma Ramotswe are the usual cast of memorable supporting characters, and Smith introduces several new and well-drawn personalities. With the charm and visual detail so characteristic of this series, readers are treated to another enchanting slice of Mma Ramotswe's world. Sure to please both enduring fans and new readers, this is highly recommended for all fiction and mystery collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/03.]-Nicole A. Cooke, Montclair State Univ. Lib., Upper Montclair, NJ Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
Adult/High School-In this fifth installment about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Mma Ramotswe and her assistant, Mma Makutsi, tackle the case of a wealthy woman who wants to know which of her suitors is only after her money. On a personal note, Mma Ramotswe worries over when her fianc will set a date for their marriage, and more urgently, who will replace him in performing the parachute jump, a charity event to raise money for the Orphan Farm. The charm of this series set in Botswana is its wealth of very real characters. By Western standards they may be economically poor, but in terms of pride, love, and happiness, they are rich indeed. Readers will be seduced by the beauty of the land and intrigued by local customs. They will learn about drought and irrigation, about growing pumpkins, braiding hair, and dealing with poisonous snakes. The cases Mma Ramotswe handles are more about solving problems than crimes. Her behavior is governed by good manners, politeness, and honesty, and her favorite tool in the art of detecting is tea, preferably Bush Tea. The book has lots of humor, and optimism softens the tough realities of life. It also has a delightful surprise ending.-Sheila Janega, Fairfax County Public Library, Great Falls, VA Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Another charmingly gossamer mystery for Botswana's premier detective. Mma Precious Ramotswe, of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, often takes on clients whose problems are reflections of her own (The Kalahari Typing School for Men, 2003, etc.). The problems this time involve marriage. Mma Holonga, founder of a chain of hairdressing salons and inventor of the wondrous Special Girl Hair Braiding Preparation, having narrowed the field of men applying for the position of husband to a wealthy woman to four, wants Mma Ramotswe to investigate the finalists and report whether they are more interested in Mma Holonga or in her money. The "traditionally built" Mma Ramotswe takes an especially keen interest in the case because her own engagement to Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, the gentlemanly mechanic who shares her Gaborone office building, seems becalmed in an endlessly premarital state; although she can't imagine marrying anyone else, it's becoming difficult to imagine actually marrying Mr J.L.B. Matekoni either. As for her fiance, he's distracted by troubles of his own, from his need to confront his ignoble competitors at First Class Motors to his having been pressured into aiding Mma Silvia Potokwani's orphan farm by signing up subscribers to sponsor a parachute jump she wants him to make. As usual in this enchanting series, Mma Ramotswe provides less detection than advice, and wise advice it turns out to be, even when her clients decline to take it. Agent: Robin Straus/Robin Straus Agency
From the Publisher
“Utterly enchanting.” Chicago Sun-Times
“Beguiling. . . . The author’s deceptively simple prose . . . is as supple as ever. His gift for effortless description of dusty, sun-baked Africa is undiminished.” —The Seattle Times
"Smith's big-hearted Botswana stories...[allow] his readers to escape into a world of simple, picturesque pleasures and upstanding virtues." The New York Times Book Review
“Brims with the same old-fashioned charm as its lovely predecessors.... An engaging read.” Entertainment Weekly
“The Full Cupboard of Life is a treasure of wit and wisdom. Read it and you will find yourself very much like Botswanans on happy occasions: ululating with pleasure.” —Dallas Morning News
“Delightful. . . . The warm humanity . . . is what brings readers back. . . . There is a simplicity and lyricism in [the] language that brings out the profound importance of . . . everyday revelations.” San Francisco Chronicle
"Enthralling. . . . [Mma Ramotswe] is someone readers can't help but love. . . . A well-told story." USA Today
“The greatest mystery in this witty and charming book is whether Mma Ramotswe will succeed in getting her fiance to name a date for their long-anticipated wedding. It’s hard to conceive of any reader not being just as eager to find out as she is.” The Wall Street Journal
“Soothing. . . . Full of authentic African touches. New readers can start here . . . and enjoy a plot even more inventive than the earlier ones.” People
“[McCall Smith’s] accomplished novels . . . [are] dependent on small gestures redolent with meaning and main characters blessed with pleasing personalities. . . . Not so much conventional mysteries, these novels are gentle probes into the mysteries of human nature.” Newsday
"[The] prose is gentle, easing the reader through Ramotswe's world of crimes of virtue and social misdemeanors." Time
“Beguiling. . . . The author’s deceptively simple prose . . . is as supple as ever. His gift for effortless description of dusty, sun-baked Africa is undiminished.” The Seattle Times
"Today, when most books about Africa describe hardship, Alexander McCall Smith brings us further glimpses of Mma Precious Ramotswe and her friends that refresh our souls. . . . . We become caught up in the lives of these gentle Botswanans. We share a mug of bush tea with them, and sit together under the shade of a jacaranda." The Christian Science-Monitor
"Witty, elegant, compassionate and exotic. . . . [McCall Smith is] a treasure of a writer whose books deserve immediate devouring." The Guardian (London)
"Delightful. . . . Up to the high standard established with the first book and each succeeding one. . . . The relentless warmth, generosity, cheerfulness, and simple wisdom of the heroine are guaranteed to charm you." The New York Sun
"The Full Cupboard of Life delivers . . . the perfect journey to a faraway place. . . . Mma Ramotswe, her able assistant Mma Makutsi and her fianc?, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, are brilliant creations. . . . McCall Smith's unique voice, with its African rhythms, elegant, formal turns of phrase and subtle humor . . . is remarkable." Toronto Globe and Mail
"Warm, witty and filled with cultural aphorisms, a good-hearted book. . . . It is, all told, a book about the rich stock of experiences that make a full life, and the human vagaries involved in living." Houston Chronicle
“What makes the stories so charming is their vivid sense of place.” W ?magazine
“The Full Cupboard of Life is a treasure of wit and wisdom. Read it and you will find yourself very much like Botswanans on happy occasions: ululating with pleasure.” Dallas Morning News
“An act of divine ventriloquism. . . . [Smith] give[s] voice to the life and work, sorrows and joys, of the only lady detective in Gaborone, Botswana. . . . There is deep wisdom [here].” The New Orleans Times-Picayune
"A reassuring book, calm, good-humored . . . strong on winsome charm. . . . McCall Smith's writing . . . harks back to a more tranquil age, where gentle ironies and strict proprieties prevail. . . . The pleasure of the novel lies in its simplicity." The Independent (London)
“Addictive. . . . Our reviewer was so entertained, she bought the rest of the series!” Marie Claire
"The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith could put the entire self-help shelf out of business. His sturdy heroine, Precious Ramotswe, exudes a simple wisdom so engaging that it is difficult to put down the books about her. . . . After getting to know these characters so well, it would be difficult not to love them." The Harford Courant
"Wonderful. . . . Richly drawn characters. . . . A vivid portrait of life in Botswana." The Buffalo News
"Breezy and entertaining. . . . [McCall Smith] paints the books' unlikely setting . . . with rainbow colors, providing a stark contrast to the continent's oft-bleak portraits." Wisconsin State Journal
"[Even] more satisfying and uplifting that its predecessors. . . . The dramas of daily life are described in an elegantly understated prose that is full of small delights. . . . Gentle humor blends pleasingly with good African common sense. . . . In the good land that is Botswana, the cupboard of life is indeed overflowing with goodness." Winston-Salem Journal
Read an Excerpt
A Great Sadness among the Cars of Botswana
Precious Ramotswe was sitting at her desk at the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Gaborone. From where she sat she could gaze out of the window, out beyond the acacia trees, over the grass and the scrub bush, to the hills in their blue haze of heat. It was such a noble country, and so wide, stretching for mile upon mile to brown horizons at the very edge of Africa. It was late summer, and there had been good rains that year. This was important, as good rains meant productive fields, and productive fields meant large, ripened pumpkins of the sort that traditionally built ladies like Mma Ramotswe so enjoyed eating. The yellow flesh of a pumpkin or a squash, boiled and then softened with a lump of butter (if one's budget stretched to that), was one of God's greatest gifts to Botswana. And it tasted so good, too, with a slice of fine Botswana beef, dripping in gravy.
Oh yes, God had given a great deal to Botswana, as she had been told all those years ago at Sunday school in Mochudi. "Write a list of Botswana's heavenly blessings," the teacher had said. And the young Mma Ramotswe, chewing on the end of her indelible pencil, and feeling the sun bearing down on the tin roof of the Sunday school, heat so insistent that the tin creaked in protest against its restraining bolts, had written: (1) the land; (2) the people who live on the land; (3) the animals, and specially the fat cattle. She had stopped at that, but, after a pause, had added: (4) the railway line from Lobatse to Francistown. This list, once submitted for approval, had come back with a large blue tick after each item, and the comment written in: Well done, Precious! You are a sensible girl. You have correctly shown why Botswana is a fortunate country.
And this was quite true. Mma Ramotswe was indeed a sensible person and Botswana was a fortunate country. When Botswana had become independent all those years ago, on that heart-stilling night when the fireworks failed to be lit on time, and when the dusty wind had seemed to augur only ill, there had been so little. There were only three secondary schools for the whole country, a few clinics, and a measly eight miles of tarred road. That was all. But was it? Surely there was a great deal more than that. There was a country so large that the land seemed to have no limits; there was a sky so wide and so free that the spirit could rise and soar and not feel in the least constrained; and there were the people, the quiet, patient people, who had survived in this land, and who loved it. Their tenacity was rewarded, because underneath the land there were the diamonds, and the cattle prospered, and brick by brick the people built a country of which anybody could be proud. That was what Botswana had, and that is why it was a fortunate country.
Mma Ramotswe had founded the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by selling the cattle left her by her father, Obed Ramotswe, a good man whom everybody respected. And for this reason she made sure that his picture was on the office wall, alongside, but slightly lower than, the picture of the late President of Botswana, Sir Seretse Khama, paramount chief of the Bangwato, founding president of Botswana, and gentleman. The last of these attributes was perhaps the most important in Mma Ramotswe's eyes. A man could be a hereditary ruler, or an elected president, but not be a gentleman, and that would show in his every deed. But if you had a leader who was a gentleman, with all that this meant, then you were lucky indeed. And Botswana had been very lucky in that respect, because all three of her presidents had been good men, gentlemen, who were modest in their bearing, as a gentleman should be. One day, perhaps, a woman might become president, and Mma Ramotswe thought that this would be even better, provided, of course, that the lady in question had the right qualities of modesty and caution. Not all ladies had those qualities, Mma Ramotswe reflected; some of them being quite conspicuously lacking in that respect.
Take that woman who was always on the radio — a political woman who was always telling people what to do. She had an irritating voice, like that of a jackal, and a habit of flirting with men in a shameless way, provided that the men in question could do something to advance her career. If they could not, then they were ignored. Mma Ramotswe had seen this happening; she had seen her ignoring the Bishop at a public function, in order to talk to an important government minister who might put in a good word for her in the right place. It had been transparent. Bishop Theophilus had opened his mouth to say something about the rain and she had said, "Yes, Bishop, yes. Rain is very important." But even as she spoke, she was looking in the direction of the minister, and smiling at him. After a few minutes, she had slipped away, leaving the Bishop behind, and sidled up to the minister to whisper something to him. Mma Ramotswe, who had watched the whole thing, was in no doubt about what that something had been, for she knew women of this sort and there were many of them. So they would have to be careful before choosing a woman as president. It would have to be the right sort of woman; a woman who knew what hard work was and what it was like to bear half the world upon your shoulders.
On that day, sitting at her desk, Mma Ramotswe allowed her thoughts to wander. There was nothing in particular to do. There were no outstanding matters to investigate, as she had just completed a major enquiry on behalf of a large store that suspected, but could not prove, that one of its senior staff was embezzling money. Its accountants had looked at the books and had found discrepancies, but had been unable to find how and where the money had disappeared. In his frustration at the continuing losses, the managing director had called in Mma Ramotswe, who had compiled a list of all the senior staff and had decided to look into their circumstances. If money was disappearing, then there was every likelihood that somebody at the other end would be spending it. And this elementary conclusion — so obvious really — had led her straight to the culprit. It was not that he had advertised his ill-gotten wealth; Mma Ramotswe had been obliged to elicit this information by placing temptation before each suspect. At length, one had succumbed to the prospect of an expensive bargain and had been able to offer payment in cash — a sum beyond the means of a person in such a position. It was not the sort of investigation which she enjoyed, because it involved recrimination and shame, and Mma Ramotswe preferred to forgive, if at all possible. "I am a forgiving lady," she said, which was true. She did forgive, even to the extent of bearing no grudge against Note Mokoti, her cruel former husband, who had caused her such suffering during their brief, ill-starred marriage. She had forgiven Note, even though she did not see him any more, and she would tell him that he was forgiven if he came to her now. Why, she asked herself, why keep a wound open when forgiveness can close it?
Her unhappiness with Note had convinced her that she would never marry again. But then, on that extraordinary evening some time ago, when Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had proposed to her after he had spent all afternoon fixing the dispirited engine of her tiny white van, she had accepted him. And that was the right decision, for Mr J.L.B. Matekoni was not only the best mechanic in Botswana, but he was one of the kindest and most gracious of men. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni would do anything for one who needed help, and, in a world of increasing dishonesty, he still practised the old Botswana morality. He was a good man, which, when all is said and done, is the finest thing that you can say about any man. He was a good man.
It was strange at first to be an engaged lady; a status somewhere between spinsterhood and marriage; committed to another, but not yet another's spouse. Mma Ramotswe had imagined that they would marry within six months of the engagement, but that time had passed, and more, and still Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had said nothing about a wedding. Certainly he had bought her a ring and had spoken freely, and proudly, of her as his fiancée, but nothing had been said about the date of the wedding. She still kept her house in Zebra Drive, and he lived in his house in the Village, near the old Botswana Defence Force Club and the clinic, and not far from the old graveyard. Some people, of course, did not like to live too close to a graveyard, but modern people, like Mma Ramotswe, said that this was nonsense. Indeed, there were many differences of opinion here. The people who lived around Tlokweng, the Batlokwa, had a custom of burying their ancestors in a small, mud-walled round house, a rondavel, in the yard. This meant that those members of the family who died were always there with you, which was a good practice, thought Mma Ramotswe. If a mother died, then she might be buried under the hut of the children, so that her spirit could watch over them. That must have been comforting for children, thought Mma Ramotswe, to have the mother under the stamped cattle-dung floor.
There were many good things about the old ways, and it made Mma Ramotswe sad to think that some of these ways were dying out. Botswana had been a special country, and still was, but it had been more special in the days when everybody — or almost everybody — observed the old Botswana ways. The modern world was selfish, and full of cold and rude people. Botswana had never been like that, and Mma Ramotswe was determined that her small corner of Botswana, which was the house on Zebra Drive, and the office that the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors shared, would always remain part of the old Botswana, where people greeted one another politely and listened to what others had to say, and did not shout or think just of themselves. That would never happen in that little part of Botswana, ever.
That morning, sitting at her desk, a steaming mug of bush tea before her, Mma Ramotswe was alone with her thoughts. It was nine o'clock, which was well into the working morning (which started at seven-thirty), but Mma Makutsi, her assistant, had been instructed to go to the post office on her way to work and would not arrive for a little while yet. Mma Makutsi had been hired as a secretary, but had quickly proved her value and had been promoted to assistant detective. In addition to this, she was Assistant Manager of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, a role which she had taken on with conspicuous success when Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had been ill. Mma Ramotswe was lucky to have such an assistant; there were many lazy secretaries in Gaborone, who sat in the security of their jobs tapping at a keyboard from time to time or occasionally picking up the telephone. Most of these lazy secretaries answered the telephone in the same tone of voice, as if the cares of being a secretary were overwhelming and there was nothing that they could possibly do for the caller. Mma Makutsi was quite unlike these; indeed she answered the telephone rather too enthusiastically, and had sometimes scared callers away altogether. But this was a minor fault in one who brought with her the distinction of being the most accomplished graduate of her year from the Botswana Secretarial College, where she had scored ninety-seven per cent in the final examinations.
As Mma Ramotswe sat at her desk, she heard sounds of activity from the garage on the other side of the building. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni was at work with his two apprentices, young men who seemed entirely obsessed with girls and who were always leaving grease marks about the building. Around each light switch, in spite of many exhortations and warnings, there was an area of black discolouration, where the apprentices had placed their dirty fingers. And Mma Ramotswe had even found greasy fingerprints on her telephone receiver and, more irritatingly still, on the door of the stationery cupboard.
"Mr J.L.B. Matekoni provides towels and all that lint for wiping off grease," she had said to the older apprentice. "They are always there in the washroom. When you have finished working on a car, wash your hands before you touch other things. What is so hard about that?"
"I always do that," said the apprentice. "It is not fair to talk to me like that, Mma. I am a very clean mechanic."
"Then is it you?" asked Mma Ramotswe, turning to the younger apprentice.
"I am very clean too, Mma," he said. "I am always washing my hands. Always. Always."
"Then it must be me," said Mma Ramotswe. "I must be the one with greasy hands. It must be me or Mma Makutsi. Maybe we get greasy from opening letters."
The older apprentice appeared to think about this for a moment. "Maybe," he said.
"There's very little point in trying to talk to them," Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had observed when Mma Ramotswe subsequently told him of this conversation. "There is something missing in their brains. Sometimes I think it is a large part, as big as a carburettor maybe."
Now Mma Ramotswe heard the sound of voices coming from the garage. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni was saying something to the apprentices, and then there came a mumbling sound as one of the young men answered. Another voice; this time raised; it was Mr J.L.B. Matekoni.
Mma Ramotswe listened. They had done something again, and he was reprimanding them, which was unusual. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni was a mild man, who did not like conflict, and always spoke politely. If he felt it necessary to raise his voice, then it must have been something very annoying indeed.
"Diesel fuel in an ordinary engine," he said, as he entered her office, wiping his hands on a large piece of lint. "Would you believe it, Mma Ramotswe? That . . . that silly boy, the younger one, put diesel fuel into the tank of a non-diesel vehicle. Now we have to drain everything out and try to clean the thing up."