Book Review: The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café, by Alexander McCall Smith

Available in bookstores nationwide.
Precious Ramotswe wakes up one morning with “a sudden feeling that the next few hours were going to be rather unusual … a feeling that something interesting and out of the ordinary lay ahead”. As readers will soon discover, if they did not already know, Mma Ramotswe, the owner of the most famous detective agency in Botswana, is seldom wrong.

This is the fifteenth book in the internationally bestselling series by Alexander McCall Smith; the series having started in 1999 with The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. I’ve seen the colourful covers in libraries, bookshops, and the hands of people on planes and beaches for years – but I confess to never having read a single book in the series. Until now.

A new case, a new employee, and a new business venture for her detective agency partner all combine to keep the marvellous Mma Ramotswe on her toes. Does her new client really have sudden-onset amnesia; or are the mysterious “Mrs” and her benefactors hiding something? Will ex-apprentice mechanic Charlie prove to be a liability as the agency’s new assistant detective-in-training? And what does Mma Makutsi know about running a café, even if she did get 97% in her secretarial exams?

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a series of novels by Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, set in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe and has taught at the University of Botswana. He maintains a close relationship with the country and his love of it shows in his writing. Like Edinburgh in the Detective Rebus series (by Ian Rankin) and Venice in the Commissario Brunetti series (by Donna Leon), Botswana is almost a character of its own in the story, such is its presence:

“Some people said that the air in the morning had no smell; she thought they were wrong, for it smelled of so many things – of the acacia leaves that had been closed for the night and were now opening at the first touch of the morning sun; of a wood fire somewhere, just a hint of it; of the wind, and the breath that the wind had, which was dry and sweet, like the breath of cattle.”

Dr McCall Smith must be one of the most ridiculously prolific authors on the planet. Apart from his fifteen No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books, he has also written nine books in the 44 Scotland Street series, nine in the The Sunday Philosophy Club series, and at least forty-one other works of fiction, plus thirteen academic works (he is also an international expert in medical law), including the scintillatingly titled Family Rights: Family Law and Medical Advances. One wonders when the good professor finds time to sleep.

Starting at book number 15 didn’t matter in the slightest. It was a bit like starting partway through an established television series; it might take you a few moments to catch up, but thanks to some cleverly efficient writing, the characters’ backstory quickly becomes apparent and you easily find yourself immersed in a new world where the main story is wrapped up nicely within the allotted episode and the main characters are left to continue on to the next instalment. I will definitely be dipping back into Mma Ramotswe’s world again soon.

Review by Tiffany Matsis

The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Café
by Alexander McCall Smith
Published by Little, Brown
ISBN 9781408704332

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