The Kalahari Typing School for Men (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series #4)

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Overview

Now that her business, the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, is firmly established, the agency's founder, Precious Ramotswe, can look upon her life with pride: she's reached her late thirties ("the finest age to be") and she has a house, two adopted children, a good fiance, and many satisfied customers. But life is never without its problems. Her adopted son has a somewhat troubling hobby. Her assistant wants a husband but can't find one. Meanwhile, the Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency has opened up across ...
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The Kalahari Typing School for Men (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series #4)

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Overview

Now that her business, the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, is firmly established, the agency's founder, Precious Ramotswe, can look upon her life with pride: she's reached her late thirties ("the finest age to be") and she has a house, two adopted children, a good fiance, and many satisfied customers. But life is never without its problems. Her adopted son has a somewhat troubling hobby. Her assistant wants a husband but can't find one. Meanwhile, the Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency has opened up across town and seems to be getting all the attention. In this latest volume from Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, Precious manages to cope with these and other more serious problems with her customary mix of insight and good-heartedness.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
The fourth outing in the brilliant Precious Ramotswe series finds Botswana’s intrepid female private detective struggling with a new set of unique difficulties. When Precious’ assistant, Mma Grace Makusi, attempts to open a typing school for men, Precious and her fiancé do what they can to help while the cases and other travails pile up: Precious tries to help a flourishing engineer make up for the cruelty done to two women in his past; she also deals with competition from a new detective -- the arrogant and self-righteous Cephas Buthelezi -- who has opened another local agency. If that isn't enough, Precious also copes with her adopted son's withdrawn behavior and ensures that Mma Makusi's new love interest is on the up and up. No wonder there's no time to plan out her own long-delayed nuptials. Alexander McCall Smith once again approaches his tale with a sure hand and a poetic yet unpretentious voice that will draw you to a unique corner of the world. The engaging narrative calls up a vivid African landscape, and Smith’s easy humor underscores plenty of perceptive commentary on the folly and foibles of society. Precious is a wonderfully charming protagonist who draws on her good common sense and the wise teachings of her family to solve all troubles. As with the other books in this endlessly appealing series, The Kalahari Typing School for Men is a satisfying and supple novel that moves adeptly between mystery and thoughtful study of a part of the world few Americans know well. Tom Piccirilli
Publishers Weekly
The fourth appearance of Precious Ramotswe, protagonist of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and two sequels, is once again a charming account of the everyday challenges facing a female private detective in Botswana. In his usual unassuming style, McCall Smith takes up Ramotswe's story soon after the events described in Tears of the Giraffe. Precious and her fianc , Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, still have not set a wedding date, but they continue to nurture the sibling orphans in their care, as well as the entrepreneurial ambitions of Precious's assistant, Mma Makutsi, who sets out to open a typing school for men. Along the way, Ramotswe handles a few cases and negotiates the arrival of a rival detective in Gaborone. The competition, a sexist detective who boasts of New York City street smarts, proves a delicious foil to his distaff counterpart. A moral component enters the story in the person of a successful engineer who wishes to atone for his past sins. He enlists Ramotswe to help him find the woman he has wronged, and this case comes to a satisfying yet hardly sentimental conclusion. But the real appeal of this slender novel is Ramotswe's solid common sense, a proficient blend of folk wisdom, experience and simple intelligence. She is a bit of a throwback to the days of courtesy and manners, and casts disapproving glances at the apprentices in her fianc 's auto shop who obsess about girls instead of garage protocol. A dose of easy humor laces the pages, as McCall Smith throws in wry observations, effortlessly commenting on the vagaries his protagonist encounters as she negotiates Botswana bureaucracy. This is another graceful entry in a pleasingly modest and wise series. (Apr. 29) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Owner of the (until recently) only detective agency in Botswana, portly Precious Ramotswe, known courteously as "Mma," leads a quietly successful though busy life. Engaged to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni (an auto repair person); she fosters two troubled orphans, mentors her assistant, Mma Makutsi (a would-be typing school owner); and agrees to help a rather secretive man (who raises ostriches) right some old personal wrongs. Ramotswe takes everything as it comes, reacting to most events with quiet courage and resourcefulness. The fourth title in an internationally popular series first published in England, it features an exotic African setting and charming, memorable characters. Recommended for most collections. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 12/02; Anthony Minghella, director of The English Patient, has optioned the first book in the series, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.-Ed.] Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
It’s a good thing that Precious Ramotswe (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, 2001, etc.) has consolidated the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in anticipation of consolidating her personal life—moving its headquarters back of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, the establishment owned by Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, her fiancé—because the not-so-mean streets of Gaborone are teeming with problems only she can solve. Mr. Molofelo, a prosperous civil engineer from Lobatse, throws himself on her as a confessor, then asks her to find two women he wronged when he was a young man years ago: Tebogo Bathopi, the nursing student whom he insisted have the abortion he made necessary, and Mma Tsolamosese, the landlady whose radio he stole in order to finance the abortion. While Mma Ramotswe looks for the women, her assistant, Mma Grace Makutsi, looks for men: if not the gentleman friend she pines for, then prospective students for her new typing school aimed at men who want to learn secretarial skills without embarrassing themselves in front of a classful of women. Bumptious Cephas Buthelezi, who’s opened the rival Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency across town, has no chance against these women’s patient resolve—since although men may be tougher than women, they’re clearly not interested enough in other people to make good detectives. Inspector Ghote meets Mr. Parker Pyne. Readers who haven’t yet discovered Mma Ramotswe will enjoy discovering how her quiet humor, understated observation, and resolutely domestic approach to detection promise to put Botswana on the sleuthing map for good.
From the Publisher
“Spare and neatly crafted, The Kalahari Typing School for Men sparkles with African sunshine and Mma Ramotswe’s wit.” —The Dallas Morning News

The Kalahari Typing School for Men [is] simply charming in the extreme. . . . This series’ huge appeal lies in its mannerly folk wisdom and wry, gentle humor, full of wit, nuance and caring. It’s an oasis in a genre that too often seems a desert of violence and inhumanity.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“This loosely woven novel is as beguiling as Alexander McCall Smith’s earlier books about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. His prose is deceptively simple, with a gift for evoking the earth and sky of Africa.” —The Seattle Times

“Get your hands on one of the mysteries from The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series…. Each book is a thinly disguised love letter…to the people and culture of Southern Africa. A great escape.” —Elle

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400031801
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/9/2004
  • Series: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series , #4
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 224
  • Sales rank: 217,139
  • Product dimensions: 5.16 (w) x 7.95 (h) x 0.58 (d)

Meet the Author

Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith is a professor of medical law at Edinburgh University. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and taught law at the University of Botswana. He is the author of more than fifty books: novels, stories, children’s books, and specialized titles such as Forensic Aspects of Sheep. He lives in Scotland.

Biography

Alexander McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and went to school in Bulawayo, near the Botswana border. Although he moved to Scotland to attend college and eventually settled in Edinburgh, he always felt drawn to southern Africa and taught law for a while at the University of Botswana. He has written a book on the criminal law of Botswana, and among his successful children's books is a collection of African folk tales, Children of Wax.

Eventually, Smith had an urge to write a novel about a woman who would embody the qualities he admired in the people of Botswana, and the result, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, was a surprise hit, receiving two special Booker citations and a place on the Times Literary Supplement's International Books of the Year and the Millennium list. "The author's prose has the merits of simplicity, euphony and precision," Anthony Daniels wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. "His descriptions leave one as if standing in the Botswanan landscape. This is art that conceals art. I haven't read anything with such unalloyed pleasure for a long time."

Despite the book's success in the U.K., American publishers were slow to take an interest, and by the time The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was picked up by Pantheon Books, Smith had already written two sequels. The books went from underground hits to national phenomena in the United States, spawning fan clubs and inspiring celebratory reviews. Smith is also the author of a detective series featuring the insatiably curious philosopher Isabel Dalhousie and the 44 Scotland Street novels, which present a witty portrait of Edinburgh society

In an interview on the publisher's web site, Smith says he thinks the country of Botswana "particularly chimes with many of the values which Americans feel very strongly about -- respect for the rule of law and for individual freedom. I hope that readers will also see in these portrayals of Botswana some of the great traditional virtues in Africa -- in particular, courtesy and a striking natural dignity."

Good To Know

As a professor at Edinburgh Law School, Smith specializes in criminal law and medical law, and has written about the legal and ethical aspects of euthanasia, medical research, and medical practice.

When he isn't writing books or teaching, Smith finds time to play the bassoon in the candidly named amateur ensemble he co-founded, The Really Terrible Orchestra.

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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE
How to Find a Man

I must remember, thought Mma. Ramotswe, how fortunate I am in this life; at every moment, but especially now, sitting on the verandah of my house in Zebra Drive, and looking up at the high sky of Botswana, so empty that the blue is almost white. Here she was then, Precious Ramotswe, owner of Botswana's only detective agency, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency -- an agency which by and large had lived up to its initial promise to provide satisfaction for its clients, although some of them, it must be said, could never be satisfied. And here she was too, somewhere in her late thirties, which as far as she was concerned was the very finest age to be; here she was with the house in Zebra Drive and two orphan children, a boy and a girl, bringing life and chatter into the home. These were blessings with which anybody should be content. With these things in one's life, one might well say that nothing more was needed.
But there was more. Some time ago, Mma. Ramotswe had become engaged to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and by all accounts the finest mechanic in Botswana, a kind man, and a gentle one. Mma. Ramotswe had been married once before, and the experience had been disastrous. Note Mokoti, the smartly dressed jazz trumpeter, might have been a young girl's dream, but he soon turned out to be a wife's nightmare. There had been a daily diet of cruelty, of hurt given out like a ration, and when, after her fretful pregnancy, their tiny, premature baby had died in her arms, so few hours after it had struggled into life, Note had been off drinking in a shebeen somewhere. He had not even come to say good-bye to thelittle scrap of humanity that had meant so much to her and so little to him. When at last she left Note, Mma. Ramotswe would never forget how her father, Obed Ramotswe, whom even today she called the Daddy, had welcomed her back and had said nothing about her husband, not once saying I knew this would happen. And from that time she had decided that she would never again marry unless--and this was surely impossible -- she met a man who could live up to the memory of the late Daddy, that fine man whom everybody respected for his knowledge of cattle and for his understanding of the old Botswana ways.
Naturally there had been offers. Her old friend Hector Mapondise had regularly asked her to marry him, and although she had just as regularly declined, he had always taken her refusals in good spirit, as befitted a man of his status (he was a cousin of a prominent chief). He would have made a perfectly good husband, but the problem was that he was rather dull and, try as she might, Mma. Ramotswe could scarcely prevent herself from nodding off in his company. It would be very difficult being married to him; a somnolent experience, in fact, and Mma. Ramotswe enjoyed life too much to want to sleep through it. Whenever she saw Hector Mapondise driving past in his large green car, or walking to the post office to collect his mail, she remembered the occasion on which he had taken her to lunch at the President Hotel and she had fallen asleep at the table, halfway through the meal. It had given a new meaning, she reflected, to the expression sleeping with a man. She had woken, slumped back in her chair, to see him staring at her with his slightly rheumy eyes, still talking in his low voice about some difficulty he was having with one of the machines at his factory.
"Corrugated iron is not easy to handle," he was saying. "You need very special machines to push the iron into that shape. Do you know that, Mma. Ramotswe? Do you know why corrugated iron is the shape it is?"
Mma. Ramotswe had not thought about this. Corrugated iron was widely used for roofing: was it, then, something to do with providing ridges for the rain to run off? But why would that be necessary in a dry country like Botswana? There must be some other reason, she imagined, although it was not immediately apparent to her. The thought of it, however, made her feel drowsy again, and she struggled to keep her eyes open.
No, Hector Mapondise was a worthy man, but far too dull. He should seek out a dull woman, of whom there were legions throughout the country, women who were slow-moving and not very exciting, and he should marry one of these bovine ladies. But the problem was that dull men often had no interest in such women and fell for people like Mma. Ramotswe. That was the trouble with people in general: they were surprisingly unrealistic in their expectations. Mma. Ramotswe smiled at the thought, remembering how, as a young woman, she had had a very tall friend who had been loved by an extremely short man. The short man looked up at the face of his beloved, from almost below her waist, and she looked down at him, almost squinting over the distance that separated them. That distance could have been one thousand miles or more -- the breadth of the Kalahari and back; but the short man was not to realise that, and was to desist, heartsore, only when the tall girl's equally tall brother stooped down to look into his eyes and told him that he was no longer to look at his sister, even from a distance, or he would face some dire, unexpressed consequence. Mma. Ramotswe felt sorry for the short man, of course, as she could never find it in herself to dismiss the feelings of others; he should have realised how impossible were his ambitions, but people never did.
Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni was a very good man, but, unlike Hector Mapondise, he could not be described as dull. That was not to say that he was exciting, in the way in which Note had seemed exciting; he was just easy company. You could sit with Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni for hours, during which he might say nothing very important, but what he said was never tedious. Certainly he talked about cars a great deal, as most men did, but what he had to say about them was very much more interesting than what other men had to say on the subject. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni regarded cars as having personalities, and he could tell just by looking at a car what sort of owner it had.
"Cars speak about people," he had once explained to her. "They tell you everything you need to know."
It had struck Mma. Ramotswe as a strange thing to say, but Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni had gone on to illustrate his point with a number of telling examples. Had she ever seen the inside of the car belonging to Mr. Motobedi Palati, for example? He was an untidy man, whose tie was never straight and whose shirt was permanently hanging out of his trousers. Not surprisingly, the inside of his car was a mess, with unattached wires sticking out from under the dashboard and a hole underneath the driver's seat -- so that dust swirled up into the car and covered everything with a brown layer. Or what about that rather intimidating nursing sister from the Princess Marina Hospital, the one who had humiliated a well-known politician when she had heckled him at a public meeting, raising questions about nurses' pay that he simply could not answer? Her car, as one might expect, was in pristine condition and smelled vaguely of antiseptic. He could come up with further examples if she wished, but the point was made, and Mma. Ramotswe nodded her head in understanding.
It was Mma. Ramotswe's tiny white van that had brought them together. Even before she had taken it for repair at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, she had been aware of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, as a rather quiet man who lived by himself in a house near the old Botswana Defence Force Club. She had wondered why he was by himself, which was so unusual in Botswana, but had not thought much about him until he had engaged her in conversation after he had serviced the van one day, and had warned her about the state of her tyres. Thereafter she had taken to dropping in to see him in the garage from time to time, exchanging views about the day's events and enjoying the tea which he brewed on an old stove in the corner of his office.
Then there had come that extraordinary day when the tiny white van had choked and refused to start, and he had spent an entire afternoon in the yard at Zebra Drive, the van's engine laid out in what seemed like a hundred pieces, its very heart exposed. He had put everything together and had come into the house as evening fell and they had sat together on her verandah. He had asked her to marry him, and she had said that she would, almost without thinking about it, because she realised that here was a man who was as good as her father, and that they would be happy together.
Mma. Ramotswe had not been prepared for Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni to fall ill, or at least to fall ill in the way in which he had done. It would have been easier, perhaps, if his illness had been one of the body, but it was his mind which was affected, and it seemed to her that the man she had known had simply vacated his body and gone somewhere else. Thanks to Mma. Silvia Potokwani, matron of the orphan farm, and to the drugs which Dr. Moffat gave to Mma. Potokwani to administer to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, the familiar personality returned. The obsessive brooding, the air of defeat, the lassitude -- all these faded away and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni began to smile again and take an interest in the business he had so uncharacteristically neglected.
Of course, during his illness he had been unable to run the garage, and it had been Mma. Ramotswe's assistant, Mma. Makutsi, who had managed to keep that going. Mma. Makutsi had done wonders with the garage. Not only had she made major steps in reforming the lazy apprentices, who had given Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni such trouble with their inconsiderate way with cars (one had even been seen to use a hammer on an engine), but she had attracted a great deal of new customers to the garage. An increasing number of women had their own cars now, and they were delighted to take them to a garage run by a lady. Mma. Makutsi may not have known a great deal about engines when she first started to run the garage, but she had learned quickly and was now quite capable of carrying out service and routine repairs on most makes of car, provided that they were not too modern and too dependent on temperamental devices of the sort which German car manufacturers liked to hide in cars to confuse mechanics elsewhere.
"What are we going to do to thank her?" asked Mma. Ramotswe. "She's put so much work into the garage, and now here you are back again, and she is just going to be an assistant manager and assistant private detective once more. It will be hard for her."
Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni frowned. "I would not like to upset her," he said. "You are right about how hard she has worked. I can see it in the books. Everything is in order. All the bills are paid, all the invoices properly numbered. Even the garage floor is cleaner, and there is less grease all over the place."
"And yet her life is not all that good," mused Mma. Ramotswe. "She is living in that one room over at Old Naledi with a sick brother. I cannot pay her very much. And she has no husband to look after her. She deserves better than that."
Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni agreed. He would be able to help her by allowing her to continue as assistant manager of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, but it was difficult to see what he could do beyond that. Certainly the question of husbands had nothing to do with him. He was a man, after all, and the problems which single girls had in their lives were beyond him. It was women's business, he thought, to help their friends when it came to meeting people. Surely Mma. Ramotswe could advise her on the best tactics to adopt in that regard? Mma. Ramotswe was a popular woman who had many friends and admirers. Was there not something that Mma. Makutsi could do to find a husband? Surely she could be told how to go about it?
Mma. Ramotswe was not at all sure about this. "You have to be careful what you say," she warned Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. "People don't like you to think that they know nothing. Especially somebody like Mma. Makutsi, with her ninety-seven percent or whatever it was. You can't go and tell somebody like that that they don't know a basic thing, such as how to find a husband."
"It's nothing to do with ninety-seven percent," said Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. "You could get one hundred percent for typing and still not know how to talk to men. Getting married is different from being able to type. Quite different."
The mention of marriage had made Mma. Ramotswe wonder about when they were going to get married themselves, and she almost asked him about this but stopped. Dr. Moffat had explained to her that it was important that Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni should not be subjected to too much stress, even if he had recovered from the worst of his depression. It would undoubtedly be stressful for him if she started to ask about wedding dates, and so she said nothing about that and even agreed -- for the sake of avoiding stress -- to speak to Mma. Makutsi at some time in the near future with a view to finding out whether the issue of husbands could be helped in any way with a few well-chosen words of advice.

Copyright© 2003 by Alexander McCall Smith
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First Chapter

CHAPTER ONE

How to Find a Man


I must remember, thought Mma. Ramotswe, how fortunate I am in this life; at every moment, but especially now, sitting on the verandah of my house in Zebra Drive, and looking up at the high sky of Botswana, so empty that the blue is almost white. Here she was then, Precious Ramotswe, owner of Botswana's only detective agency, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency -- an agency which by and large had lived up to its initial promise to provide satisfaction for its clients, although some of them, it must be said, could never be satisfied. And here she was too, somewhere in her late thirties, which as far as she was concerned was the very finest age to be; here she was with the house in Zebra Drive and two orphan children, a boy and a girl, bringing life and chatter into the home. These were blessings with which anybody should be content. With these things in one's life, one might well say that nothing more was needed.

But there was more. Some time ago, Mma. Ramotswe had become engaged to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and by all accounts the finest mechanic in Botswana, a kind man, and a gentle one. Mma. Ramotswe had been married once before, and the experience had been disastrous. Note Mokoti, the smartly dressed jazz trumpeter, might have been a young girl's dream, but he soon turned out to be a wife's nightmare. There had been a daily diet of cruelty, of hurt given out like a ration, and when, after her fretful pregnancy, their tiny, premature baby had died in her arms, so few hours after it had struggled into life, Note had been off drinking in a shebeen somewhere. He had not even come to saygood-bye to the little scrap of humanity that had meant so much to her and so little to him. When at last she left Note, Mma. Ramotswe would never forget how her father, Obed Ramotswe, whom even today she called the Daddy, had welcomed her back and had said nothing about her husband, not once saying I knew this would happen. And from that time she had decided that she would never again marry unless -- and this was surely impossible -- she met a man who could live up to the memory of the late Daddy, that fine man whom everybody respected for his knowledge of cattle and for his understanding of the old Botswana ways.

Naturally there had been offers. Her old friend Hector Mapondise had regularly asked her to marry him, and although she had just as regularly declined, he had always taken her refusals in good spirit, as befitted a man of his status (he was a cousin of a prominent chief). He would have made a perfectly good husband, but the problem was that he was rather dull and, try as she might, Mma. Ramotswe could scarcely prevent herself from nodding off in his company. It would be very difficult being married to him; a somnolent experience, in fact, and Mma. Ramotswe enjoyed life too much to want to sleep through it. Whenever she saw Hector Mapondise driving past in his large green car, or walking to the post office to collect his mail, she remembered the occasion on which he had taken her to lunch at the President Hotel and she had fallen asleep at the table, halfway through the meal. It had given a new meaning, she reflected, to the expression sleeping with a man. She had woken, slumped back in her chair, to see him staring at her with his slightly rheumy eyes, still talking in his low voice about some difficulty he was having with one of the machines at his factory.

"Corrugated iron is not easy to handle," he was saying. "You need very special machines to push the iron into that shape. Do you know that, Mma. Ramotswe? Do you know why corrugated iron is the shape it is?"

Mma. Ramotswe had not thought about this. Corrugated iron was widely used for roofing: was it, then, something to do with providing ridges for the rain to run off? But why would that be necessary in a dry country like Botswana? There must be some other reason, she imagined, although it was not immediately apparent to her. The thought of it, however, made her feel drowsy again, and she struggled to keep her eyes open.

No, Hector Mapondise was a worthy man, but far too dull. He should seek out a dull woman, of whom there were legions throughout the country, women who were slow-moving and not very exciting, and he should marry one of these bovine ladies. But the problem was that dull men often had no interest in such women and fell for people like Mma. Ramotswe. That was the trouble with people in general: they were surprisingly unrealistic in their expectations. Mma. Ramotswe smiled at the thought, remembering how, as a young woman, she had had a very tall friend who had been loved by an extremely short man. The short man looked up at the face of his beloved, from almost below her waist, and she looked down at him, almost squinting over the distance that separated them. That distance could have been one thousand miles or more -- the breadth of the Kalahari and back; but the short man was not to realise that, and was to desist, heartsore, only when the tall girl's equally tall brother stooped down to look into his eyes and told him that he was no longer to look at his sister, even from a distance, or he would face some dire, unexpressed consequence. Mma. Ramotswe felt sorry for the short man, of course, as she could never find it in herself to dismiss the feelings of others; he should have realised how impossible were his ambitions, but people never did.

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni was a very good man, but, unlike Hector Mapondise, he could not be described as dull. That was not to say that he was exciting, in the way in which Note had seemed exciting; he was just easy company. You could sit with Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni for hours, during which he might say nothing very important, but what he said was never tedious. Certainly he talked about cars a great deal, as most men did, but what he had to say about them was very much more interesting than what other men had to say on the subject. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni regarded cars as having personalities, and he could tell just by looking at a car what sort of owner it had.

"Cars speak about people," he had once explained to her. "They tell you everything you need to know."

It had struck Mma. Ramotswe as a strange thing to say, but Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni had gone on to illustrate his point with a number of telling examples. Had she ever seen the inside of the car belonging to Mr. Motobedi Palati, for example? He was an untidy man, whose tie was never straight and whose shirt was permanently hanging out of his trousers. Not surprisingly, the inside of his car was a mess, with unattached wires sticking out from under the dashboard and a hole underneath the driver's seat -- so that dust swirled up into the car and covered everything with a brown layer. Or what about that rather intimidating nursing sister from the Princess Marina Hospital, the one who had humiliated a well-known politician when she had heckled him at a public meeting, raising questions about nurses' pay that he simply could not answer? Her car, as one might expect, was in pristine condition and smelled vaguely of antiseptic. He could come up with further examples if she wished, but the point was made, and Mma. Ramotswe nodded her head in understanding.

It was Mma. Ramotswe's tiny white van that had brought them together. Even before she had taken it for repair at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, she had been aware of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, as a rather quiet man who lived by himself in a house near the old Botswana Defence Force Club. She had wondered why he was by himself, which was so unusual in Botswana, but had not thought much about him until he had engaged her in conversation after he had serviced the van one day, and had warned her about the state of her tyres. Thereafter she had taken to dropping in to see him in the garage from time to time, exchanging views about the day's events and enjoying the tea which he brewed on an old stove in the corner of his office.

Then there had come that extraordinary day when the tiny white van had choked and refused to start, and he had spent an entire afternoon in the yard at Zebra Drive, the van's engine laid out in what seemed like a hundred pieces, its very heart exposed. He had put everything together and had come into the house as evening fell and they had sat together on her verandah. He had asked her to marry him, and she had said that she would, almost without thinking about it, because she realised that here was a man who was as good as her father, and that they would be happy together.

Mma. Ramotswe had not been prepared for Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni to fall ill, or at least to fall ill in the way in which he had done. It would have been easier, perhaps, if his illness had been one of the body, but it was his mind which was affected, and it seemed to her that the man she had known had simply vacated his body and gone somewhere else. Thanks to Mma. Silvia Potokwani, matron of the orphan farm, and to the drugs which Dr. Moffat gave to Mma. Potokwani to administer to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, the familiar personality returned. The obsessive brooding, the air of defeat, the lassitude--all these faded away and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni began to smile again and take an interest in the business he had so uncharacteristically neglected.

Of course, during his illness he had been unable to run the garage, and it had been Mma. Ramotswe's assistant, Mma. Makutsi, who had managed to keep that going. Mma. Makutsi had done wonders with the garage. Not only had she made major steps in reforming the lazy apprentices, who had given Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni such trouble with their inconsiderate way with cars (one had even been seen to use a hammer on an engine), but she had attracted a great deal of new customers to the garage. An increasing number of women had their own cars now, and they were delighted to take them to a garage run by a lady. Mma. Makutsi may not have known a great deal about engines when she first started to run the garage, but she had learned quickly and was now quite capable of carrying out service and routine repairs on most makes of car, provided that they were not too modern and too dependent on temperamental devices of the sort which German car manufacturers liked to hide in cars to confuse mechanics elsewhere.

"What are we going to do to thank her?" asked Mma. Ramotswe. "She's put so much work into the garage, and now here you are back again, and she is just going to be an assistant manager and assistant private detective once more. It will be hard for her."

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni frowned. "I would not like to upset her," he said. "You are right about how hard she has worked. I can see it in the books. Everything is in order. All the bills are paid, all the invoices properly numbered. Even the garage floor is cleaner, and there is less grease all over the place."

"And yet her life is not all that good," mused Mma. Ramotswe. "She is living in that one room over at Old Naledi with a sick brother. I cannot pay her very much. And she has no husband to look after her. She deserves better than that."

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni agreed. He would be able to help her by allowing her to continue as assistant manager of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, but it was difficult to see what he could do beyond that. Certainly the question of husbands had nothing to do with him. He was a man, after all, and the problems which single girls had in their lives were beyond him. It was women's business, he thought, to help their friends when it came to meeting people. Surely Mma. Ramotswe could advise her on the best tactics to adopt in that regard? Mma. Ramotswe was a popular woman who had many friends and admirers. Was there not something that Mma. Makutsi could do to find a husband? Surely she could be told how to go about it?

Mma. Ramotswe was not at all sure about this. "You have to be careful what you say," she warned Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. "People don't like you to think that they know nothing. Especially somebody like Mma. Makutsi, with her ninety-seven percent or whatever it was. You can't go and tell somebody like that that they don't know a basic thing, such as how to find a husband."

"It's nothing to do with ninety-seven percent," said Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. "You could get one hundred percent for typing and still not know how to talk to men. Getting married is different from being able to type. Quite different."

The mention of marriage had made Mma. Ramotswe wonder about when they were going to get married themselves, and she almost asked him about this but stopped. Dr. Moffat had explained to her that it was important that Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni should not be subjected to too much stress, even if he had recovered from the worst of his depression. It would undoubtedly be stressful for him if she started to ask about wedding dates, and so she said nothing about that and even agreed -- for the sake of avoiding stress -- to speak to Mma. Makutsi at some time in the near future with a view to finding out whether the issue of husbands could be helped in any way with a few well-chosen words of advice.

During Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's illness they had moved the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency into the back office at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. It had proved to be a successful arrangement: the affairs of the garage could be easily supervised from the back of the building, and there was a separate entrance for agency clients. Each business benefited in other ways. Those who brought their cars in for repair sometimes realised that there was a matter which might benefit from investigation -- an errant husband, for example, or a missing relative -- while others who came with a matter for the agency would arrange at the same time for their cars to be serviced or their brakes to be checked.
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Introduction

The introduction, discussion questions, author biography, and suggested reading list that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Alexander McCall Smith’s The Kalahari Typing School for Men, the fourth novel in the acclaimed Precious Ramotswe series.

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Reading Group Guide

1. Mma Ramotswe observes, “The trouble with men, of course, was that they went about with their eyes half closed for much of the time. Sometimes Mma Ramotswe wondered whether men actually wanted to see anything, or whether they decided that they would notice only the things that interested them” [p. 17]. What other statements about the differences between men and women occur in The Kalahari Typing School for Men? What perception about male psychology allows Mma Makutsi to open the typing school?

2. What prompts Mr. Molefelo to seek out Mma Ramotswe’s help? How is his request different from what most people would ask of a private detective?

3. In considering the changing morality of modern times, Mma Ramotswe suggests that people are now “far too ready to abandon their husbands and wives because they had tired of them. . . . And friends, too. They could become very demanding, but all you had to do was to walk out. Where had all this come from, she wondered. It was not African, she thought, and it certainly had nothing to do with the old Botswana morality. So it must have come from somewhere else” [pp. 109–110]. Where might such changes in attitude have come from? What are the consequences of this weakened sense of loyalty, both in the novel particularly, and in society more generally?

4. How does Mma Ramotswe respond to Motholeli’s unhappiness? Why is she able to sympathize with the orphan girl’s pain so strongly? What important message does Mma Ramotswe give her?

5. Discussing the relationship between education and experience, Mma Potokwani says, “You don’t have to read a book to understand how the world works. . . . You just have to keep your eyes open.” Mma Ramotswe agrees but feels a “great respect for books. . . . One could never read enough. Never” [p. 133]. How does Mma Ramotswe embody a balance between knowledge gained from life experience and knowledge gained from books?

6. Why does Mr. Cephas Buthelezi, the arrogant detective who tries to usurp Mma Ramotswe, decide to quit? Why do all his experience, training, and travels fail to serve him in Botswana? What does he lack that Mma Ramotswe has?

7. As Mma Ramotswe confronts Mr. Selepeng about his behavior toward Mma Makutsi, she refrains from lecturing him. “I could never be a judge, she thought; I could not sit there and punish people after they have begun to feel sorry for what they have done” [p. 183]. Where else in the novel does she exhibit this ability to listen without judging? How does this ethos differ from the typical ways of dealing with the guilty in American detective fiction and American life in general? Why is Mma Ramotswe able to feel such compassion even for those who have clearly hurt others?

8. Near the end of The Kalahari Typing School for Men, as the novel’s various problems are being resolved, Mma Ramotswe observes, “It was astonishing how life had a way of working out, even when everything looked so complicated and unpromising” [p. 188]. Does the novel resolve its problems too easily? Or do these resolutions faithfully reflect the degree to which Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi, Mr J.L.B. Maketoni, Mma Potokwani, and other characters live in harmony with their world?

9. Mr. Buthelezi trumpets his “toughness” and police-force experience in dealing with serious criminals, along with his knowledge of how detective work is carried out in New York and other big cities. Through the character of Mr. Buthelezi, is Alexander McCall Smith making a statement about the kind of detective who appears in more conventional mystery novels? Why is Mr. Buthelezi so ill suited to the needs of the people of Botswana?

10. What is so appealing about the world in which Mma Ramotswe lives? In what ways is it different from contemporary American society? Are the values and attitudes of Mma Ramotswe translatable into American life?

11. If you have read any of the other novels in the series, what are the recurring themes and situations? In what ways are the books similar? How does Alexander McCall Smith keep the stories fresh?

12. In place of violence and revenge, the novels in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective series substitute understanding and forgiveness. How is Alexander McCall Smith able to make this reversal of values so satisfying, in both the literary and moral senses?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 58 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 58 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted April 28, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Delightful Original Story Telling

    The characters are the story, so human, so personable as they cope with their everyday lives with enticing little mysteries thrown in for the reader to wonder about and follow through to their conclusion. The mysteries and problems the ladies of the detective agency are confronted with are solved with ingenuity and sometimes with just a realization that they are encountering human nature. The African setting adds to the charm of this very enjoyable book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 20, 2006

    Just . . . .Precious!!!!

    Alexander McCall Smith's fourth installment of his popular No. 1 Ladies Detective Agencies continues the story of Mma. Ramotswe, her fiance Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, her agency's assistant, Mma. Makutsi. For a while, Mma. Ramotswe's detective agency was the only agency in town until another agency owned by a man who had CID experience in Johannesburg and New York showed up and threathened their business. At the same time, a rich businessman showed up at the agency hoping to get Mma. Ramotswe's help to track down some people that he had wronged in the past. In addition, Mma. Makutsi, hoping to earn extra money set up the Kalahari Typing School for Men, which became a hit. I have enjoyed the other books in this series and this was equally delightful. The author focused more on the main characters' daily lives and their problems as opposed to actual cases. It's great that the readers get to learn more about the characters but at the same time, it would be better if the author had provided more cases for Mma. Ramotswe and her assistant to solve. Nevetheless, this is still a great book it's easy to read, the characters are likeable and it's basically a fun read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 1, 2013

    Highly Recommended

    I only discovered this author in recent months and am gradually making my way through the series (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Sgency).
    I love them! They are charming, witty and much truth to be had from the characters. When I have finished this series, I will go on to others by Mr. Smith.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 22, 2012

    Very good

    !

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 3, 2012

    Love this series!

    I am never disappointed with the Mma Ramotswe or Mma Makutsi and their adventures. The writing is so decriptive, even though I've never been to Africa I feel as if I have just by reading the evocative way McCall Smith describes the landscape and the people in Botswana. A great read!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 26, 2011

    Love these books

    Enjoyable reading

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  • Posted April 26, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    KoKo! Are you Home? I LOVE these books!

    I found it hard to believe that a Scottish man could so get into the life and culture of a "tradditionally sized" woman from Botswanna. You are caught up in a totally new environment, thought stream, and expectations. Good expections and views on life to carry into conversation and life. I only wish, that there was enough room/space to follow the additions to the JLB Matekoni family more fully, it seems they drop out from book to book. This typing school of Mma Makutsis was fun - and showed an interesting side of life. Loved it. Love them all. Great for the beach, in front of the fireplace, any time you need to step back and slow down.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 31, 2005

    A nice read

    A fast flowing story set, Tears of the Giraffe is one of the best books I have read. With good values expressed through characters that are lively, this book showed a beautiful side of Africa, where commitment is held sacred, where love is deep and hospitality is the norm. Fast paced and hilarious, this book hooked me all the more to the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 18, 2005

    Botswana Bound

    Alexander McCall Smith once again brings to life his native Botswana in this fourth installment of the No. 1 Ladies¿ Detective Agency series. His elegant, yet simple, style evokes an appreciation for ¿old Botswana¿ in the formality by which the characters greet and refer to each other, but this archaic feeling ends when the characters are confronted with thought-provoking, modern-day dilemmas. Mma Precious Ramotswe, lady detective, and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni are still engaged to be married, but no closer to matrimony than the last novel in the series. And to complicate matters, the No. 1 Ladies¿ Detective Agency is in financial straits brought on by a number of factors, including competition in the form of a new detective agency which prides itself on being run by a man. Mma Ramotswe¿s cases this time around find her helping to right old wrongs and searching for evidence of a philandering husband. We see more of Mma Grace Makutsi, assistant detective, and discover that she has a mind for business herself, hence the title of this work. Mma Makutsi, with the support of her friends, opens a typing school for men who are ashamed to sit in typing classes with young women. She discovers not only success in her school, but some additional fringe benefits. McCall Smith¿s effortless characterization allows the reader to know his characters immediately, even if one has not read the preceding books in this series. And the ending, as is true of most series, leaves one wanting to read the next installment to discover what becomes of these quaint and charming characters. I enjoyed the book, but the dilemmas featured aren¿t high-paced drama. Although, I would have liked to see a little more excitement, the heartfelt difficulties addressed in this novel probe morality issues that many of us face.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 17, 2003

    Good story, but one has to ask why Smith is so down on men

    McCall is a good writer and his stories are both entertaining and educational. I have enjoyed learning much about African culture fron these books. One thing I don't understand is exactly why McCall feels the compulsion to so consistently berate men, their motives and their general character. I think this distracts from his work. Such derogatory generalizations are the work of a small mind. Certainly at odds with his storytelling abilities. I suggest that he lose his prejudices and get on with his stories.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2003

    IRRESISTIBLE LISTENING

    Narrator Lisette Lecat, a native of South Africa, is a polished voice performer doubly blessed by a winning way with accents. She gives vibrant voice to the unconquerable Precious Ramotswe, proprietress of Botswana's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Possessed with intelligence and human intuition in an abundance that matched her girth Mma Ramotswe has familiarized herself with an instruction manual, 'The Principles of Private Detection.' Then, equipped with a 'tiny white van,'minimal office equipment, an assistant, Mma Makutsi, and three mugs in which to brew redbush tea she opened for business. She loves Botswana, and feels she knows 'how to love the people who live in this place.' It is her duty, she believes. 'to help them solve the mysteries in their lives.' Much has happened since Mma Ramotswe first entertained these revelatory thoughts. Her business has flourished to the extent that she has been able to buy a home on Zebra Drive and, on the far side of her thirties, which she considers the 'finest age to be' she has become engaged to Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, the proud and proper owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. Now, with the fourth in Alexander Smith's engaging series, 'The Kalahari Typing School for Men,' she has two adopted children in her care, and is confronted by a rival business run by a macho retired policeman who trumpets that only a man can be a proper detective. Mma Makutsi also faces challenges. Her bank balance is anemic, and her life lacks romance. Then, quite suddenly, 'a strikingly good idea' occurs to her: she would open a typing school for men. She realizes that men have to type in order to use computers, but did not learn to type correctly because 'they are ashamed to say that they cannot type and they do not want to go and have to learn with a class full of girls.' An evening class held in a church hall so that others would think the men were going to a church meeting was the solution. Not only is the school an unqualified success, but there is extra-circular activity when a student becomes enamored with Mma Makutsi. Regrettably, there are complications in this pairing - complications that trouble Mma Ramotswe. Equally distressing is Mma Ramotswe's latest client, Mr. Molefelo. Now, a well-to-do engineer Mr. Molefelo once committed what he considers to be egregious sins. He wants to make amends for past wrongs. Thus, it falls to Mma Ramotswe to find those he has misused. These tasks aren't difficult for Botswana's No. 1 lady detective who, possessed with Solomon-like wisdom, also suggests precisely what Mr. Molefelo might do to achieve proper atonement. Spare and neatly crafted, 'The Kalahari Typing School For Men' sparkles with African sunshine and Mma Ramotswe's wit. It is refreshing and irresistible, leaving listeners eager for more.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2003

    It all works and works rather well.

    Mr. Smith's writing style is what one would expect to find in a novel for children. Yet he makes it work for adults. The plot is straight forward and simple but not offensively so. But Mr. Smith is a White man who is choosing to 'see and live' in a world through the eyes and skin of a main character who is a Black woman. Can he present anything of 'her experiences' except the most superficial? In conclusion it all works and works rather well. Mr. Smith's writing for children writing style matches his limits of insight and personal experience very, very well. The total effect of the two is strengthened by the matching. Mr. Smith's characters are people who are good and worthy of our respect. The novel's conlusion demonstrates that good outcomes happen to good people. How pleasant it is to find this in today's world. Mr. Smith is a writer America needs.

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    Posted August 23, 2010

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    Posted January 7, 2009

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    Posted October 21, 2008

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    Posted May 23, 2011

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    Posted July 20, 2010

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