For those who have never read any of the previous episodes of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, this is a wonderful place to start, I would think, because episode 14 reviews so much of the past. Otherwise, the faithful followers of Precious Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi will enjoy another visit with the Ladies, along with a cup of red bush tea, especially while sitting with Mme Ramotswe and Mme Makutsi in the cool shade of an acacia tree, during the interminable dry season where the vegetation, wildlife and humanity all cry out for relief and hope for the rains. Mme Ramotswe notes that the corrugated tin roof of Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni’s Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors is so hot “it could fry eggs.” She thought that in fact “the eggs would burn.”
Readers will visit again with friends and acquaintances such as mechanics Charlie and Fanwell, recall stories of Sir Seretse Khama and Obed Ramotswe, enjoy Mme Potokwane and her fruit cake, update the achievements of Rra Phuti Radiphuti, refer to the inspirational Clovis Andersen (who receives a distinct honor in this episode), and look in on the children, Motholeli and Puso. The author re-introduces such villains as Note Mokoti, Violet Sephotho and Phuti’s aunt, the senior female member of his family who, in the name of tradition, presses her will on her nephew and his bride.
Conflicts, especially between traditions and modernization play in the background whether it’s Mme Makutsi status as assistant or associate detective, the evolving roles of men and women, the worsening traffic in Gaborone or the use of the postal services to deliver “muti” (bad-luck charms or curses). There is no need to fear traditional monsters under your bed when you have real, live cobras, mambas and puff-adders in the neighborhood or perhaps under your roof. Is that bad luck or good?
There is detective work to accomplish, but unlike the plots of other authors, the reader will neither see reckless car chases nor hear gun shots. There may be marital infidelity among the clients, but certainly none involving the Ladies. As the title of episode 14 suggests, Mme Ramotswe accepts a complementary facial massage as the first client of The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon leading her and Mme Makutsi all over Gaborone in search of a malicious culprit. Another case begins when a giraffe-like lawyer of dubious reputation asks the Ladies to investigate an inheritance. Again travel, research, keen observation, no small amount of luck, a blending of outlooks and much soul searching leads the Ladies to a satisfactory outcome.
Episode 14 incorporates a very small change in the cast of characters, but with potentially major consequences for future episodes. As usual, the content and tranquil Mme Ramotswe leaves us to reflect on the beauty of Botswana and Africa: the motherland of all humanity. She dreams of Mochudi, her home village where she might someday retire to peace and quiet, her cattle around her, with the land beneath her and the pure, dry, fragrant air about her, listening to the music of cattle bells. We await episode 15.
Smith, Alexander McCall. The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon: No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (14). New York: Pantheon Books, 2013.
(© 2013 Donald J. Mulcare)