The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency could be about to lose its #2 investigator in Smith’s endearing 14th installment of the bestselling Botswana-set series (after 2012’s The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection). One hardly needs the renowned deductive powers of agency head Mma Precious Ramotswe to notice the growing bulk beneath the increasingly voluminous garb of recently married second-in-command Mma Grace Makutsi. But the normally frighteningly efficient assistant stays mum as the pair try to establish whether the young “nephew” attempting to claim a dead man’s estate is in fact an imposter. Meanwhile, Mma Ramotswe allows herself to be snookered into figuring out who’s mounting a smear campaign against the titular beauty establishment. The two story lines work as serviceably as Mma Ramotswe’s doughty white van to propel the story forward, but the book’s appeal lies less in deduction than irrepressible characters, intriguing local lore, and bone-deep love of Africa. Agent: Robin Straus, Robin Straus Agency. (Nov.)
Two and a half new cases for Precious Ramotswe, who presides over the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. The first case is both straightforward and tricky. Sheba Kutso, the lawyer Edgar Molapo hired to execute the will leaving much of his estate to his late brother's son, Liso, suspects that the young man calling himself Liso Molapo isn't her late client's nephew, even though he's supplied with all the proper identification. Mma Ramotswe can imagine several different scenarios that would explain the possible imposture, as well as some that would indicate that the claimant isn't an imposter at all, but it's hard to find evidence that supports any of them and excludes the others. In the second case, which asks who's spreading malicious rumors about Mma Soleti, the proprietor of the newly relocated Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, identifying the culprit seems almost too easy, but this inquiry too turns out to have unexpected twists. What occupies Mma Ramotswe most deeply, however, is the absence of her secretary and associate detective, Grace Makutsi, who, only days after finally acknowledging her pregnancy, is delivered of a son whose arrival brings a most unwelcome extended visit from her husband Phuti Radiphuti's aunt. In the tale's most effective episode, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, getting the idea that he needs to work harder at being a good husband to Mma Ramotswe, signs up for the Modern Husband course at the University of Botswana, with gratifyingly predictable results. A little slower-moving and more diffuse than many of the 13 preceding volumes in this celebrated series (The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, 2012, etc.), but it's no more than you'd expect from a heroine whose fleetness has never been as big a draw as her wisdom.
A possible impostor and a cosmetologist's nightmare are at the center of this No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novel. First, Precious Ramotswe is contacted by an estate lawyer who doubts the identity of a young man purporting to be the nephew of a recently deceased farmer. Then the owner of the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon calls with a very major problem: Person or persons unknown are attempting to put her out of business, but who and why? Closer to home, our astute Botswanan problem solver notices that Mma Makutsi seems to be harboring a secretor is it a secret baby? A fine addition to one of mystery's most endearing series.
From the Publisher
“Amusing. . . . An escape from life’s woes [as well] as a suggestion for how to make the whole deal more palatable.”
—The Boston Globe
“A particularly endearing entry in the long-running series, which has lost none of its gentleness or its love for Botswana.” —The Christian Science Monitor
“Leisurely, wonderfully crafted descriptions of life in the agency and at home, the beauties of Botswana, and the joys, big and small, of life. . . . [And] especially, a tribute to enduring friendship.” —Booklist (starred review)
“When you are in the company of Mma Ramotswe, you know that, despite the clamor and chaos that passes for modern life, somewhere out there, all is right with the world.”
“McCall Smith’s accomplished novels [are] dependent on small gestures redolent with meaning and main characters blessed with pleasing personalities.” —Newsday
“The intrepid proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana is determined to remain as steadfast as a constellation in the night sky. But Alexander McCall Smith’s beloved sleuth comes to accept the inevitability of change in The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon.” —The New York Times Book Review
“McCall Smith is a vivid observer and an elegant writer, honoring Botswanan customs and culture . . . Like the best traditions, this series is one we hope will endure.” —The Plain Dealer
“Deep into a series, it’s not unusual for the characters or plots to lose their luster, but that’s not the case with this series. McCall Smith’s thoughtful observations on life and human nature, as well as his distinctive writing style and gentle humor, make this volume as enjoyable as the ones that have come before.” —The Wichita Eagle
“Alexander McCall Smith is a prolific, popular and wonderfully peculiar writer. His capacity to deliver quality new installments . . . is unrivalled by any other modern writer.” —The Independent
A reader favorite, the irresistible Precious juggles two cases with her usual aplomb. She has more trouble grappling with changes within her own agency in her 14th adventure (after The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection). [See Prepub Alert, 5/13/13.]
Read an Excerpt
There had been no further debate on the issue, and Mma Ramotswe had learned to steer clear of certain topics—such as that one—that could be guaranteed to elicit an extreme response from her somewhat prickly assistant. Mma Makutsi had many merits, she came to realise, and these easily outweighed her occasional faults. And now, with Mma Makutsi on maternity leave and the office seeming strangely quiet as a result, there was something else that she came to realise: she missed her assistant in a way and to a degree that she had never anticipated. She missed her occasional outbursts; she missed her comments on what was in the newspapers; she even missed the way in which she would intervene in the conversation Mma Ramotswe was having with clients, dropping in observations from her position to the rear and making them stop and turn their heads to reply to somebody over their shoulder—not an easy thing to do. All of that she missed, just as she missed Mma Makutsi’s knack of putting her teacup down on the desk in a manner that so completely revealed her thinking on the subject under discussion. There was nobody else she knew who could put a cup down on a desk to quite the same effect. It was, she decided, one of the many respects in which Mma Makutsi was—and here she could think of only one word to express it—irreplaceable. There simply could never be another Mma Makutsi. There could never be another woman from Bobonong, of all places, with flashing round glasses and ninety-seven per cent in the final examinations of the Botswana Secretarial College. There could never be another person who was even remotely capable of standing up to somebody like Mma Potokwane, or putting Charlie in his place when, with all the confidence and ignorance of the young male, he made some outrageous comment. If Mma Makutsi decided not to return from maternity leave then Mma Ramotswe thought that the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency would never be the same again, and might not be worth continuing with.
She looked about her. She had worked as a detective for some years now, and in that time she had done her best for her clients. She liked to think that she had made a difference to the lives of at least some people and helped them to deal with problems that had become too burdensome for them to handle on their own. Now, however, surveying the shabby little office, she wondered whether she really had achieved very much. It was a rare moment of gloom, and it was at this point that she realised she was doing something that she very seldom did. She supported many people in their tears—for tears could so easily come to those who were recounting their troubles—but there were few occasions on which she herself cried. If you are there to staunch the tears of the world, then it does not cross your mind that you yourself may weep. But now she did, not copiously but discreetly and inconsequentially, and barely noticeably—except to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, who chose that moment to come into the room, wiping the grease off his hands, ready with a remark about what he had just discovered under the latest unfortunate car.
For a moment he stood quite still. Then, letting the lint fall from his hands, he swiftly crossed the room and put his arm about his wife’s shoulder, lowering his head so that they were cheek to cheek and she could feel the stubble on his chin and the warmth of his breath.
“My Precious, my Precious.”
She reached up and took his hand. There was still a smear on it—some vital fl uid of the injured car to which he had been attending—but she paid no attention to that.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “There is really no reason for me to cry. I am being silly.”
“You are not silly, Mma. You are never silly. What is it?”
With her free hand she took the handkerchief from where it was tucked into the front of her dress. She blew her nose, and with some determination too. After all, the blowing of a nose can be the punctuation that brings such moments to an end.
“I am much better now,” she said. “I have been sitting and thinking when I should be working. And without Mma Makutsi to talk to, well, you know how hard it can be to sit with the problems of other people.”
He knew, or thought he knew. Yes, he knew how she felt. “Just like cars,” he said. “You sit and look at a car and you think of all its problems, and it can get you down.”
“Yes, I’m sure it can.” She smiled at him. “I’ll be all right, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. Mma Makutsi will come back and everything will be the same again.”
He removed his hand from her shoulder and stood up. “I will make you tea,” he said.
She looked at him with fondness. For some reason, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni did not make very good tea. It was something to do with the quantities of tea he put in the pot, or with not allowing the water to boil properly, or with the way he poured it. For whatever reason, his tea was never quite of the standard achieved by her or by Mma Makutsi. So she thanked him and said that it would be good for her to do something instead of sitting at her desk and moping, and then she made the tea for herself and for her husband, and for Charlie and Fanwell too, and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni took his cup back into the garage where he sipped at it thoughtfully while he decided what to do.