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So, while Precious is asked by an American woman to find out what happened to her son, who disappeared from a commune ten years previously, she must also negotiate the pitfalls of setting up house with Mr. Matekoni, the acquisition of an engagement ring, and the dastardly schemes of Mr. Matekoni's nasty housekeeper, and the unexpected addition of two foster children to her household. All of which she does with her keen sense of human nature and wisdom. Her secretary/typist is also given increased attention, allowed to take on the case of a cheating wife all by herself.
Built into the stories are ruminations of the tensions between modernity and traditional values. There are a number of passages that attempt to capture the essence of Africa, and how that noble vision is under constant assault by greed, corruption, and power. The adventures of Precious and her cohort are a warm antidote to the often depressing news that dominates coverage of Africa in the West. Smith writes in a delightfully fluid and simple prose with pacing that makes the book quite difficult to put down. The series thankfully continues with Morality for Beautiful Girls and The Kalahari Typing School For Men, with further volumes to follow, one hopes.
Smith has written an enchanting book that is can be described as a cross between an engaging detective story and a love poem to Africa. Mma Ramotswe is as warm and as solid as the red earth of Botswana; she loves every inch of the Africa she knows and identifies with and wouldn't live anywhere else. She embodies the African traits of deep ties to family and community, concern for one's neighbors, and respect for tradition. She commands respect and she gets it. Smith has added a delightful and enduring creation to the pantheon of famous detectives in fiction. Jane Marple, move over. Or rather, make a separate space for Mma Ramotswe. She deserves a pedestal of her own.
"We help people with the problems in their lives. We are not here to solve crimes," Mma. Ramotswe tells one client. Not your average detective, she and her staff of one (Mma. Makutsi, her secretary turned-assistant detective) help people from different backgrounds with varied problems. Mma. Ramotswe even has a personal problem to resolve when her fiancée (Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors) starts acting in a strange manner without warning or reasoning.
I like the way the author brings out the close relationship between Mma. Ramotswe and Mr. Matekoni. The couple chooses to address each other formally but it is done in the context of respect, affection and love. The mannerisms and dialog between the other characters show the reader some of the cultural nuances in that part of the world.
The issue of morality -- how people treat each other, forgiveness, helping others -- comes up as the detectives work. On a job assignment, Mma. Makutsi goes in search of a beautiful girl with morals for a beauty pageant(hence the title). Mma. Ramotswe wrestles with the idea of whether some of her methods of detective work are moral.
Set to a vivid background of the dry but beautiful land of Botswana with its great Braham bulls and colorful people, Alexander McCall Smith describes scenes that remind me of the picturesque movies like OUT OF AFRICA and I DREAMED OF AFRICA.
MORALITY FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS is another fun book to read.