Another spin on crime fiction, this time with our gumshoe being a middle-aged ‘comfortably sized’ lady from Botswana. Smith hands us some quirky and charming company in an exotic location, although the place is hardly romanticised. I thought he may have pushed the feel-good thing a bit too far with the positively saintly Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni and the near perfect orphan/daughter, but somehow he got away with it – c’mon, why not let your readers enjoy a happy ending now and then. I haven’t spent any time in Africa to know, but the settings and disarmingly (to Westerners) open dialogue felt authentic. Despite some ugly content in a continent that’s suffered more than its share of poverty, disease and brutality, the book still manages to be gentle and affectionate. This is part of its apologetic purpose: if you think AIDS and corruption is all there is to Africa, think again.
In terms of solving a crime, Mma Ramotswe leans more on her virtually supernatural empathetic skills rather than brilliant deduction or wild car chases: she can tell by glancing at a ten year old newspaper clipping who must be guilty by the look in his eyes, and just needs to talk to a suspect to instantly know whether or not he’s lying. But the pace of the investigation, with enjoyable diversions along the way, is well measured, and strikes a nice balance with the greater strength of the character’s personal lives and interactions.
A nice way to spend an hour or two.