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altheaann

altheaann

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Rebecca Hahn
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In the Company of Cheerful Ladies - Alexander McCall Smith After reading the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency a couple of years ago, I accumulated a few of these, and went through 6 in less than a month. They're very quick reads - I read 2 and part-of-a-third in one day.

They're very entertaining, charming, and compulsively readable. Although marketed as mysteries; they're not, really. Rather they follow Mma Ramotswe and those around her through their daily lives - it's almost besides-the-point that the business she runs is a detective agency. The stories are suffused with McCall-Smith's obvious sincere love of Africa (where he grew up), and the reader feels that a genuine window has opened up into the lives and mindsets of ordinary Africans. I don't agree with many aspects of Precious Ramotswe's view on the world, and I probably wouldn't get along with her in real life - but these books made me feel like I might understand people like her more than before.

However... there's also a weird aspect to the books. They're so relentlessly cozy. It's not that McCall-Smith ignores the poverty, the devastation of AIDS, the lack of education, etc... these things are acknowledged, but then almost swept to the side. On the one hand, it's a celebration of the spirit of the people of Botswana and their love of their homeland... but on the other hand, it sometimes feels like a minimization of these things. It's not just larger social issues: there's domestic abuse, adultery, etc... all the normal foibles of humanity (although all reference to sex of any kind are totally non-existent)- but all the unpleasant things somehow get almost drowned out in the cozy, feel-good atmosphere of the books. Maybe it's just that I usually read darker, grittier material [especially in mysteries {McCall-Smith is no Stieg Larsson!}] but it felt a bit strange to me. I can't decide if it's a detriment or a positive asset to the books.

In 'The Company of Cheerful Ladies' Mma Ramotswe is happy to finally be married - but life's complications are not over. She accidentally hits a bicyclist with her van - and ends up giving him a job at the garage. Meanwhile, Mr. JLB Maketoni's tenant is running an illegal bar/nightclub out of his house, the apprentice Charlie is getting involved with a rich woman who may be taking advantage of him, and Mma Makutsi finds herself becoming involved with a rather dorky and painfully shy man that she meets at a dancing class. There's also the mystery of the house intruder-who-escapes-without-pants, and the mystery of the appearing pumpkin.