It pained me to be inside on such a glorious day, but oh, what a tangled web we weave when we procrastinate! (sighhhh) I meant to write an individual post for each of the following books after finishing them, but time kept spinning me away from my resolve. I could not stop myself from picking up one book after another, until I had three books under my reading belt and I just wanted to say I liked them all…
I read them in the following order: 1)IN THE COMPANY OF CHEERFUL LADIES by Alexander McCall Smith; 2) Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin; and 3) BLUE SHOES AND HAPPINESS by Alexander McCall Smith.
IN THE COMPANY OF CHEERFUL LADIES is the sixth novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. He entertains me so well with his easygoing characters in flourishing Botswana that it is quite possible I have subconsciously accepted their nonurgent mindset. 🙂
Precious Ramotswe owns the agency and Grace Makutsi is her most capable assistant; however, they are not of the same temperament. Traditionally built Mma Ramotswe observes and studies people and her surroundings with great insight, while thin Mma Makutsi is quick to judge, easily provoked, and forever reminding others of her top achieving graduation from Botswana Secretarial College.
IN THE COMPANY OF CHEERFUL LADIES Mma Makutsi and one of the two apprentices at Mma Ramotswe’s husband’s Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors garage get into a big dispute. It turns out Charlie is keeping company with an older, rich woman who happens to be renting Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s previous house. (After he and Mma Ramotswe married, he moved into her home on Zebra Drive. The No.1 Ladies Detective office is in part of the Speedy Motors building now.) It turns out something more than hanky-panky is going on there, something illegal.
Mma Makutsi supplements her detective income by teaching at the Kalahari Typing School for Men, but her students are too young to be of dating interest. However, Grace is very much aware that she is nearing unmarriageable age, so she joins a dancing class, where she meets a nice, but stuttering, self-employed man, Phuti Radiphuti.
Besides a misfortunate female client, Mma Ramotswe’s also encounters some personal drama in this episode: her first husband tries to blackmail her and she drives her cherished little white van into a bicyclist, Mr. Polopetsi, who turns out to be a falsely accused ex-prisoner in need of a job. Taking daily breaks with bush tea and surveying the endless landscape under the shade of an acacia tree helps Mma Ramotswe think through all the problems that arise and sort out their solutions.
By the end of the book, Mr. Polopetsi proves very helpful at the garage as well as in recovering Mma Ramotswe’s stolen van, Mma Makutsi becomes engaged, Charlie returns to his garage apprenticeship much chagrined, and the blackmailing husband will never bother Precious again.
On the heels of the above, I did not take to Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin right away. I had to read several chapters to get used to his writing style and to understand that he was revealing a complex story, spanning the 1970s to the 1990s, about two Mississippi boys, their families, and a missing teenage girl. The title refers to the way most of us were brought up spelling Mississippi: M – i – crooked letter – crooked letter – i – crooked letter – crooked letter – i – p – p – 1. (Don’t ask me why.)
Black Silas Jones and white Larry Ott were secret friends back in rural 1970s Mississippi. Silas was the only son of a poor single mother. Larry was the only son of a successful garage owner and his wife. Silas and his mother lived in an old cabin far back on the Otts family property.
By the time they were in high school, the boys’ friendship lessened. Mainly because Silas became a star athlete, #32, and Larry continued to grow inward, shy and staying to himself, more interested in reading and nature than people. When a gorgeous girl asks Larry to take her to the drive-in, his parents are thrilled by this first date. Then she goes missing and weird Larry is suspected, although no clues or evidence are found.
Silas goes off to college and Larry takes over the garage after his dad dies. For decades, no one but passing tourists ever stop by the garage, but Larry works everyday anyway. Over the years he has been forced to sell off hundreds of acres to survive and to put his demented mother in a nursing home.
When Silas returns, he becomes the sheriff but does not take up with Larry, who is still being shunned and ignored. However, after another girl disappears, Silas is forced to question his ex-friend and confront the past, as well, which has one incredible secret that brings the two men together forever.
Alexander McCall Smith once again captivated me with BLUE SHOES AND HAPPINESS. Reading his Mma Ramotswe books is like putting your mind in a relaxing hammock, soothing away the day’s stress, which is the Botswana way. The way of life that Mr. Smith discloses settles in your being and all is well. 🙂
Except when a cobra greets you in the morning, which is what happens right off the bat in BLUE SHOES AND HAPPINESS. Mr. Polopetsi helps return the snake outside, much to the relief of the lady detectives. However, it takes everyone some time to settle down, including the puffed up apprentices who did very little except in their own minds.
Mma Ramotswe enjoys relaxing on Saturdays and reads the newspaper, where she finds a new advice columnist, Auntie Emang. Precious does not agree with all of the columnist’s advice, which proves quite wise as she becomes involved with fraud and blackmail at a medical facility. She also tries to go on a diet after three different people comment on her “traditional build.”
Mma Makutsi cooks dinner for her fiancee, Mr. Radiphuti, four days a week, He eats with his family the other three days, one of which is always Sundays with his father. Mr. Radiphuti becomes stuttery again when he brings up a topic that worries him. He asks Grace if she is a feminist and she does not hesitate to say of course. Well, that was not the answer he was hoping for and does not show up the next week, which causes her to worry that she may not be engaged anymore.
This book is about what makes people happy and content, not pretty blue shoes but tea, the Kalahari, and love.