Morality for Beautiful Girls (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series #3)by Alexander McCall Smith, Lisette Lecar
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, published in 1998, introduced the world to the one and only Precious Ramotswe, the engaging and sassy owner of Botswana's only detective agency. Tears of the Giraffe took us further into this world and now, continuing the adventures of Mma. Ramotswe, Morality for Beautiful Girls finds her expanding her business to take in the world of car repair and a beauty pageant.
“The Miss Marple of Botswana.” The New York Times Book Review
“I was enchanted by the character of Precious Ramotswe and the sly humor of Alexander McCall Smith’s writing, his deft evocation of a culture.” Anthony Minghella
“Thoroughly engaging and entertaining.” Los Angeles Times
Read an Excerpt
The World as Seen by Another Person
Mma Ramotswe, the daughter of the late Obed Ramotswe Mochudi, near Gaborone, Botswana, Africa, was the announced fiancée of Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, son of the late Pumphamilitse Matekoni, of Tlokweng, peasant farmer and latterly chief caretaker of the Railway Head Office. It was a fine match, everybody thought; she, the founder and owner of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Botswana's only detective agency for the concerns of both ladies and others; he, the proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and by general repute one of the finest mechanics in Botswana. It was always a good thing, people said, to have independent interests in a marriage. Traditional marriages, in which the man made all the decisions and controlled most of the household assets, were all very well for women who wanted to spend their time cooking and looking after children, but times had changed, and for educated women who wanted to make something of their lives, it was undoubtedly better for both spouses to have something to do.
There were many examples of such marriages. There was that of Mma Maketetse, for example, who had set up a small factory specialising in the making of khaki shorts for schoolboys. She had started with a cramped and ill-ventilated sewing room at the back of her house, but by employing her cousins to cut and sew for her she had built up one of Botswana's best businesses, exporting khaki shorts to Namibia in the face of stiff competition from large clothing factories in the Cape. She had married Mr Cedric Maketetse, who ran two bottlestores in Gaborone, the capital, and had recently opened a third in Francistown. There had been a faintly embarrassing article about them in the local paper, with the catchy headline: Shorts manufacturing lady buttons it up with drink merchant. They were both members of the Chamber of Commerce, and it was clear to all that Mr Maketetse was immensely proud of his wife's business success.
Of course, a woman with a successful business had to be careful that a man who came courting her was not merely looking for a way of spending the rest of his days in comfort. There had been plenty of cases of that happening, and Mma Ramotswe had noticed that the consequences of such unions were almost inevitably dire. The man would either drink or gamble away the profits of his wife's enterprise, or he would try to run the business and destroy it in the process. Men were good at business, thought Mma Ramotswe, but women were just as good. Women were thriftier by nature; they had to be, trying to run households on a tight budget and feed the ever-open mouths of children. Children ate so much, it seemed, and one could never cook enough pumpkin or porridge to fill their hungry bellies. And as for men, they never seemed happier than when eating large quantities of expensive meat. It was all rather discouraging.
"That will be a good marriage," people said, when they heard of her engagement to Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. "He is a reliable man, and she is a very good woman. They will be very happy running their businesses and drinking tea together."
Mma Ramotswe was aware of this popular verdict on her engagement and shared the sentiment. After her disastrous marriage to Note Mokoti, the jazz trumpeter and incorrigible ladies' man, she had decided that she would never remarry, in spite of frequent offers. Indeed, she had initially turned down Mr J.L.B. Matekoni when he had first proposed, only to accept him some six months later. She had realised that the best test of a prospective husband involves no more than the asking of a very simple question, which every woman -- or at least every woman who has had a good father -- can pose and to which she will know the answer in her bones. She had asked herself this question in respect of Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, and the answer had been unambiguous.
"And what would my late Daddy have thought of him?" she said to herself. She posed the question after she had accepted Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, as one might ask oneself whether one had taken the right turning at a road junction. She remembered where she had been when she asked it. She was taking an evening walk near the dam, along one of those paths that led this way and that through the thorn bushes. She had suddenly stopped, and looked up at the sky, into that faint, washed out blue that would suddenly, at the approach of sunset, become streaked with copper-red. It was a quiet time of the day, and she was utterly alone. And so she spoke the question out loud, as if there were somebody there to hear it.
She looked up at the sky, half-expecting the answer to be there. But of course it was not, and she knew it anyway, without the need to look. There was no doubt in her mind that Obed Ramotswe, who had seen every sort of man during the time he had worked in those distant mines, and who knew the foibles of all of them, would have approved of Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. And if that were the case, then she should have no fears about her future husband. He would be kind to her.
Now, sitting in the office of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency with her assistant, Mma Makutsi, the most distinguished graduate of her year at the Botswana Secretarial College, she reflected on the decisions which her impending marriage to Mr J.L.B. Matekoni would oblige her to take. The most immediate issue, of course, had been where they might live. That had been decided rather quickly; Mr J.L.B. Matekoni's house near the old Botswana Defence Club, attractive though it undoubtedly was, with its old colonial verandah and its shiny tin roof, was not as suitable as her own house in Zebra Drive. His garden was sparse; little more than a swept yard, in fact; whereas she had a good collection of paw-paw trees, some very shady acacias, and a well-established melon patch. Moreover, when it came to the interiors, there was little to recommend Mr J.L.K. Matekoni's spartan corridors and unlived-in rooms, especially when compared with the layout of her own house. It would be a great wrench, she felt, to abandon her livingroom, with its comfortable rug on the red-polished concrete floor, her mantelpiece with her commemorative plate of Sir Sereste Khama, Paramount Chief, Statesman, and first President of Botswana, and, in the corner, her treadle sewing machine that still worked so well, even in a power cut when more modern sewing machines would fall silent.
She had not had to say very much about it. In fact, the decision in favour of Zebra Drive did not even have to be spelled out. After Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had been persuaded by Mma Potokwani, the matron at the orphan farm, to act as foster father to an orphaned boy and his crippled sister, the children had moved into her house and immediately settled in. After that, it was accepted that the whole family would, in due course, live in Zebra Drive. For the time being, Mr J.L.B. Matekoni would continue to live in his own house, but would take his evening meal at Zebra Drive.
That was the easy part of the arrangement. Now there remained the issue of the business. As Mma Ramotswe sat at her desk, watching Mma Makutsi shuffling papers in the filing cabinet of their small office, her thoughts were taken up with the difficult task that lay ahead of her. It had not been an easy decision to make, but she had now made it and she would have to steel herself and put it into effect. That was what business was all about.
One of the most elementary rules of running a business was that facilities should not be needlessly duplicated. After she and Mr J.L.B. Matekoni married, they would have two businesses with two offices. They were very different concerns, of course, but Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors had a large amount of office space and it would make a great deal of sense for Mma Ramotswe to run her agency from there. She had made a close inspection of Mr J.L.B. Matekoni's building and had even obtained advice from a local builder.
"There will be no difficulty," he had said after inspecting the garage and its office. "I can put in a new door on that side over there. Then the clients for your business can come in and not have anything to do with all those greasy goings-on in the workshop."
Combining the two offices would enable Mma Ramotswe to let out her own office and the income derived from that would make all the difference. At present, the uncomfortable truth about the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was that it was simply not making enough money. It was not that there were no clients -- there had been a ready supply of those -- it was just that detective work was immensely time-consuming and people were simply unable to pay for her services if she charged at a realistic hourly rate. A couple of hundred pula for the resolution of uncertainty or for the finding of a missing person was affordable, and usually well worth it, but several thousand pula for the same job was another matter altogether. Doubt could be preferable to sure knowledge if the difference between the two was a large sum of money.
The business might have broken even if it were not for the wages which Mma Ramotswe had to pay Mma Makutsi. She had originally employed her as a secretary, on the grounds that every business which wished to be taken seriously had to have a secretary, but had soon realised the talents that lay behind those large spectacles. Mma Makutsi had been promoted to assistant detective, a position that gave her the status she so craved. But Mma Ramotswe had felt obliged to raise her pay at the same time, thus plunging the agency current account further into the red.
She had discussed the matter with Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, who had agreed with her that she had very little choice.
"If you continue like this," he said gravely, "you'll end up bankrupt. I've seen that happen to businesses. They appoint somebody called a judicial manager. He is like a vulture, circling, circling. It is a very bad thing to happen to a business."
Mma Ramotswe clicked her tongue. "I do not want that," she said. "It would be a very sad end to the business."
They had looked at one another glumly. Then Mr J.L.B. Matekoni spoke. "You'll have to sack her," he said. "I've had to sack mechanics in the past. It is not easy, but that is what business is about."
"She was so happy when I promoted her," said Mma Ramotswe quietly. "I can't suddenly tell her that she is no longer a detective. She has no people here in Gaborone. Her people are up in Bobonong. They are very poor, I think."
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni shook his head. "There are many poor people," he said. "Many of these people are suffering badly. But you cannot keep a business going on air. That is well-known. You have to add what you get in and then take away what you spend. The difference is your profit. In your case, there is a minus sign in front of that figure. You cannot ..."
"I cannot," broke in Mma Ramotswe. "I cannot sack her now. I am like her mother. She wants so much to be a detective and she is hard-working."
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni looked down at his feet. He suspected that Mma Ramotswe was expecting him to propose something, but he was not quite sure what it was. Did she expect him to give her money? Did she want him to meet the bills of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, even though she had made it so clear that she expected him to keep to his garage business while she attended to her clients and their unsettling problems?
"I do not want you to pay," said Mma Ramotswe, looking at him with a firmness that made him both fear and admire her.
"Of course not," he said hurriedly. "I was not thinking that at all."
"On the other hand," went on Mma Ramotswe, "you do need a secretary at the garage. Your bills are always in a mess, are they not? You never keep a note of what you pay those useless apprentices of yours. I should imagine that you make loans to them, too. Do you keep a record?"
Mr J.L.B. Matekoni looked shifty. How had she found out that the apprentices each owed him over six hundred pula and had shown no signs of being able to repay it?
"Do you want her to come and work for me?" he asked, surprised at the suggestion. "What about her detective position?"
Mma Ramotswe did not answer for a moment. She had not worked anything out, but a plan was now beginning to take shape. If they moved her office to the garage, then Mma Makutsi could keep her job as assistant detective while at the same time she could do the secretarial work that the garage needed. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni could pay her a wage for that, which would mean that the agency's accounts would be relieved of a large part of that burden. This, coupled with the rent which she would receive for the existing offices, would make the financial position look considerably healthier.
She explained her proposal to Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. Although he had always expressed doubts as to Mma Makutsi's usefulness, he could see the attractions of Mma Ramotswe's scheme, not the least of which was that it would keep her happy. And that, he knew, was what he wanted above all else.
Mma Ramotswe cleared her throat.
"Mma Makutsi," she began. "I have been thinking about the future."
Mma Makutsi, who had finished her rearranging of the filing cabinet, had made them both a cup of bush tea and was settling down to the half-hour break that she usually took at eleven in the morning. She had started to read a magazine -- an old copy of the National Geographic -- which her cousin, a teacher, had lent her.
"The future? Yes, that is always interesting. But not as interesting as the past, I think. There is a very good article in this magazine, Mma Ramotswe," she said. "I will lend it to you after I have finished reading it. It is all about our ancestors up in East Africa. There is a Dr Leakey there. He is a very famous doctor of bones."
"Doctor of bones?" Mma Ramotswe was puzzled. Mma Makutsi expressed herself very well -- both in English and Setswana -- but occasionally she used rather unusual expressions. What was a doctor of bones? It sounded rather like a witchdoctor, but surely one could not describe Dr Leakey as a witchdoctor?
"Yes," said Mma Makutsi. "He knows all about very old bones. He digs them up and tells us about our past. Here, look at this one."
She held up a picture, printed across two pages. Mma Ramotswe squinted to make it out. Her eyes were not what they once were, she had noticed, and she feared that sooner or later she would end up like Mma Makutsi, with her extraordinary, large glasses.
"Is that Dr Leakey?"
Mma Makutsi nodded. "Yes, Mma," she said, "that is him. He is holding a skull which belonged to a very early person. This person lived a long time ago and is very late."
Mma Ramotswe found herself being drawn in. "And this very late person," she said. "Who was he?"
"The magazine says that he was a person when there were very few people about," explained Mma Makutsi. "We all lived in East Africa then."
"Yes. Everybody. My people. Your people. All people. We all come from the same small group of ancestors. Dr Leakey has proved that."
Mma Ramotswe was thoughtful. "So we are all brothers and sisters, in a sense?"
"We are," said Mma Makutsi. "We are all the same people. Eskimos, Russians, Nigerians. They are the same as us. Same blood. Same DNA."
"DNA?" asked Mma Ramotswe. "What is that?"
"It is something which God used to make people," explained Mma Makutsi. "We are all made up of DNA and water."
Mma Ramotswe considered the implications of these revelations for a moment. She had no views on Eskimos and Russians, but Nigerians were a different matter. But Mma Makutsi was right, she reflected: if universal brotherhood -- and sisterhood -- meant anything, it would have to embrace the Nigerians as well.
"If people knew this," she said, "if they knew that we were all from the same family, they be kinder to one another, do you think?"
Mma Makutsi put down the magazine. "I'm sure they would," she said. "If they knew that, then they would find it very difficult to do unkind things to others. They might even want to help them a bit more."
Mma Ramotswe was silent. Mma Makutsi had made it difficult to go on, but she and Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had taken the decision and she had no alternative but to break the bad news.
"That is all very interesting," she said, trying to sound firm. "I must read more about Dr Leakey when I have more time. At the moment I am having to spend all my time on working out how to keep this business going. The accounts are not good, you know. Our accounts are not like those accounts you see published in the newspapers -- you know the ones, where they have two columns, income and expenditure, and the first is always bigger than the second. With this business it is the other way round."
She paused, watching the effect of her words on Mma Makutsi. It was difficult to tell what she was thinking, with those glasses.
"So I am going to have to do something," she went on. "If I do nothing, then we shall be put under judicial management or the bank manager will come and take the office from us. That is what happens to businesses that do not make a profit. It is very bad."
Mma Makutsi was staring at her desk. Then she looked up at Mma Ramotswe and for a moment the branches of the thorn tree outside the window were reflected in her glasses. Mma Ramotswe found this disconcerting; it was as if one were looking at the world as seen by another person. As she thought this, Mma Makutsi moved her head, and Mma Ramotswe saw, for a moment, the reflection of her own red dress.
"I am doing my best," said Mma Makutsi quietly. "I hope that you will give me a chance. I am very happy being an assistant detective here. I do not want to be just a secretary for the rest of my life."
She stopped and looked at Mma Ramotswe. What was it like, thought Mma Ramotswe, to be Mma Makutsi, graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College with ninety seven per cent in the final examination, but with nobody, except for some people far away up in Bobonong? She knew that Mma Makutsi sent them money, because she had seen her once in the Post Office, buying a postal order for one hundred pula. She imagined that they had been told about the promotion and were proud of the fact that their niece, or whatever she was to them, was doing so well in Gaborone. Whereas the truth was that the niece was being kept as an act of charity and it was really Mma Ramotswe supporting those people up in Bobonong.
Her gaze shifted to Mma Makutsi's desk, and to the still-exposed picture of Dr Leakey holding the skull. Dr Leakey was looking out of the photograph, directly at her. Well Mma Ramotswe? he seemed to be saying. What about this assistant of yours?
She cleared her throat. "You must not worry," she said. "You will still be assistant detective. But we will need you to do some other duties as well when we move over to Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni needs help with his paperwork. Half of you will be a secretary, but half of you will be an assistant detective." She paused, and then added hurriedly, "But you can call yourself assistant detective. That will be your official title."
For the rest of the day, Mma Makutsi was quieter than usual. She made Mma Ramotswe her afternoon tea in silence, handing the mug over to her without saying anything, but at the end of the day she seemed to have accepted her fate.
"I suppose that Mr J.L.B. Matekoni's office is a mess," she said. "I cannot see him doing his paperwork properly. Men do not like that sort of thing."
Mma Ramotswe was relieved by the change of tone. "It is a real mess," she said. "You will be doing him a very good service if you sort it out."
"We were taught how to do that at college," said Mma Makutsi. "They sent us one day to an office that was in a very bad way, and we had to sort it out. There were four of us -- myself and three pretty girls. The pretty girls spent all their time talking to the men in the office while I did the work."
"Ah!" said Mma Ramotswe. "I can imagine that."
"I worked until eight o'clock at night," went on Mma Makutsi. "The other girls all went off with the men to a bar at five o'clock and left me there. The next morning, the Principal of the College said that we had all done a very good job and that we were all going to get a top mark for the assignment. The other girls were very pleased. They said that although I had done most of the tidying they had had the more difficult part of the job, which was keeping the men from getting in the way. They really thought that."
Mma Ramotswe shook her head. "They are useless girls, those girls," she said. "There are too many people like that in Botswana these days. But at least you know that you have succeeded. You are an assistant detective and what are they? Nothing, I should think."
Mma Makutsi took off her large spectacles and polished the lenses carefully with the corner of a handkerchief.
"Two of them are married to very rich men," she said. "They have big houses over near the Sun Hotel. I have seen them walking about in their expensive sunglasses. The third went off to South Africa and became a model. I have seen her picture in a magazine. She has got a husband who is a photographer for that magazine. He has plenty of money too and she is very happy. They call him Polaroid Khumalo. He is very handsome and well-known."
She replaced her glasses and looked at Mma Ramotswe.
"There will be a husband for you some day," said Mma Ramotswe. "And that man will be a very fortunate man."
Mma Makutsi shook her head. "I do not think there will be a husband," she said. "There are not enough men in Botswana. That is a well-known fact. All the men are married now and there is nobody left."
"Well, you don't have to get married," said Mma Ramotswe. "Single girls can have a very good life these days. I am single. I am not married."
"But you are marrying Mr J.L.B. Matekoni," said Mma Makutsi. "You will not be single for long. You could ..."
"I didn't have to marry him," interrupted Mma Ramotswe. "I was happy by myself. I could have stayed that way."
She stopped. She noticed that Mma Makutsi had taken her spectacles off again and was polishing them once more. They had misted over.
Mma Ramotswe thought for a moment. She had never been able to see unhappiness and not do something about it. It was a difficult quality for a private detective to have, as there was so much unhappiness entailed in her work, but she could not harden her heart, however much she tried. "Oh, and there's another thing," she said. "I didn't tell you that in this new job of yours you will be described as Assistant Manager of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. It is not just a secretarial job."
Mma Makutsi looked up and smiled.
"That is very good," she said. "You are very kind to me, Mma."
"And there will be more money," said Mma Ramotswe, throwing caution aside. "Not much more, but a little bit more. You will be able to send a bit more up to those people of yours up in Bobonong."
Mma Makutsi appeared considerably cheered by this information, and there was a zest in the way in which she performed the last tasks of the day, the typing of several letters which Mma Ramotswe had drafted in longhand. It was Mma Ramotswe who now seemed morose. It was Dr Leakey's fault, she decided. If he had not come into the conversation, then she might have been firmer. As it was, not only had she promoted Mma Makutsi again, but she had given her, without consulting Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, a pay rise. She would have to tell him about that, of course, but perhaps not just yet. There was always a time for the breaking of difficult news, and one had to wait for one's moment. Men usually let their defences down now and then, and the art of being a successful woman, and beating men at their own game, was to wait your moment. When that moment arrived, you could manipulate a man with very little difficulty. But you had to wait.
Excerpted from Morality for Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith. Copyright © 2001 by Alexander McCall Smith. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Meet the Author
ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie Series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, the 44 Scotland Street series and the Corduroy Mansions series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served with many national and international organizations concerned with bioethics. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and was a law professor at the University of Botswana.
- Edinburgh, Scotland
- Date of Birth:
- August 24, 1948
- Place of Birth:
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Not nearly as wonderful as the first in the series, (hard to top) but another nice read that follows the life of Precious. Delightful.....and as my friends who lived in Lesotho and Botswana say, McCall is pitch perfect in every detail of life there.
This series entertains while giving the reader a look into the very different life lived in Africa. We become acquainted with some of the traditions of the African people while getting to know and admire the strong-willed and clever Mma Ramotswe, proprietress of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Mma Ramotswe is deeply dedicated to her clients, her employees, and her friends. She strives to do what is right, and does not always have the heart to put herself and her business ahead of others, though she really needs to. As with all the books in this series, her cases are varied and many, and range from amusing -which beauty contestant is the shallowest? - to implausible -is the mysterious un-talking boy who smells of lion really a feral child? - to plausible -is someone slowly poisoning a young husband? - Mma Ramotswe values integrity and reliability above all else, and treats each case -and every person- with serious and careful consideration.
While these are not the mystery thrillers that crowd our market, it doesn't change my interest in them. I took this book on a plane to read while in flight and at my destination. I ended up bringing it home with me which I seldom do. It was not for the mystery, but for the life messages contained in the book. I find myself reading them to my family. Too bad the ladies weren't vampires so our younger readers would dig into the books.
I love this series and can't wait for the next book. They bring to life an African country I know little about and a value system that is gone from our world (USA). The characters are real and warm, people you would like to sit down with and have a cup of tea. Her detective work is serious and sometimes sad, but also funny and helpful to those with problems large or small. A great summer read but do start with book #1.
Post this on 3 other books and look under your pillow for an Ipad
I hated it
I am reading this series in order and I love Precious and her story. The chapters are short and the stories are simple - but the message is profound.
Will be on april 18 throigh 21 the awards gonna be...... most helpful award,most popular award and most here!!!!! There will be voting whos the smartest coolest and beautifulest!!!!! Chlow much love auestions answered at res2
I read all the books in this series and really enjoyed them all including this one. I want to read more of Alexander McCall Smith's other writings.