Synopses & Reviews
In the newest addition to the universally beloved No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the charming and ever-resourceful Precious Ramotswe finds herself overly beset by problems. She is already busier than usual at the detective agency when added to her concerns are a strange intruder in her house on Zebra Drive and the baffling appearance of a pumpkin. And then there is Mma Makutsi, who decides to treat herself to dance lessons, only to be partnered with a man who seems to have two left feet. Nor are things running quite as smoothly as they usually do at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. Mma Ramotswe's husband, the estimable Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, is overburdened with work even before one of his apprentices runs off with a wealthy woman. But what finally rattles Mma Ramotswe's normally unshakable composure is a visitor who forces her to confront a secret from her past. . . .
All this unfolds against the sunlit background of Mma Ramotswe's beloved homeland, Botswana a land of empty spaces, echoing skies, and an endless supply of soothing bush tea.
"Beloved Botswana sleuth Precious Ramotswe is back and better than ever in this sixth entry in McCall Smiths bestselling series.... By turns laugh-out-loud funny and quietly profound, these life-affirming mysteries are fine company, indeed. Booklist, starred review
"Like clove oil on a bad tooth, McCall Smiths fiction acts on cynicism as an effective, old-fashioned balm." The Globe and Mail
"May be the most compelling of the lot. . . . It begins with an incident that crystallizes McCall Smiths skill. Ultimately it is a matter of petty thievery, but his handling of it dramatizes the moral underpinnings of these books. . . . [Mma Ramotswes] strength and the source of her enormous appeal is her understanding of the human heart, and her willingness to confront its perfidies." New York Daily News
[The] sixth entry in McCall Smiths consistently delightful series. . . Amid the hilarious scenarios and quiet revelations are luminous descriptions of Botswana, land of wide-open spaces and endless blue skies." Publishers Weekly (starred review)
This time around, the charming and ever-resourceful Precious Ramotswe finds herself overly beset by problems. She is busier than usual at the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, when a strange intruder in her house forces her to confront a painful secret from her past.
In this latest, widely praised addition to the beloved No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, the charming and ever-resourceful Precious Ramotswe finds herself faced with new challenges—and intriguing surprises.
Precious is busier than usual at the detective agency when she discovers an intruder in her house on Zebra Drive—and perhaps even more baffling--a pumpkin on her porch. Her associate, Mma Makutsi, also has a full plate. She's taken up dance lessons, only to be partnered with a man with two left feet. And at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, where Mr J.L.B. Matekoni is already overburdened with work, one of his apprentices has run off with a wealthy older woman. But what finally rattles Mma Ramotswes normally unshakable composure is a visitor who forces her to confront a difficult secret from her past.
In the sixth novel of the series that has captivated readers around the world, we return to the warm, echoing skies of Gaborone, Botswana, where life for Precious Ramotswe and her friends has recently become very busy.
Precious Ramotswe, that cheerful Botswanan private investigator of "traditional build," is well-known to millions across the world through the best-selling No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. Those who have been following her exploits in five previously published novels will soon be able to savour the next installment, in which, as usual, circumstances are never as straightforward as they seem and events take a more than unexpected turn.
Precious Ramotswe, is now married to Mr J. L. B. Matekoni, of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. The Agency is busy, but Mma Ramotswe cannot ignore the plea which is made to her by a woman who comes to her with a tale of particular misfortune. Unfortunately, her attempts to help are interrupted by a close encounter between her tiny white van and a bicycle, and by a spectacular disagreement between her assistant, Mma Makutsi, and one of the apprentices at the garage. This apprentice has found a fancy girlfriend who drives a large silver Mercedes-Benz. How can he be rescued from his folly? And as for Mma Makutsi, she has found a dancing class, and a man who may not be able to dance very well but who admires her greatly. And all of this happens against a background of quiet sessions of bush tea, and of a land that stretches out forever under mile upon mile of empty sky.
Both entertaining and moving, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies is another masterpiece of comic understatement from Alexander McCall Smith and an affectionate homageto Botswana and its people.
About the Author
Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the huge international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
series. His other recent books include The Sunday Philosophy Club
, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs
series, The Girl Who Married a Lion
, and 44 Scotland Street
. He was born in Zimbabwe but has spent most of his life in Scotland, where he now lives. He worked for a time as a law professor at the University of Botswana and still returns regularly to that country.
From the Hardcover edition.
Reading Group Guide
1. In the opening scene, Mma Ramotswe watches as a driver sideswipes a parked car and drives away without taking responsibility and as a woman at a market steals a bracelet from a merchant when his back is turned. Mma Ramotswe jumps up from the café and tries to alert the merchant to the robbery, but her waitress accuses her of trying to run out on the bill and attempts to elicit a bribe. How do such behaviors mark the difference, for Mma Ramotswe, between the old Botswana and the new? Why does she wish to maintain ties to the old ways of thinking?
2. Detective stories usually have complex plots and eventually solve a mystery. McCall Smiths books, however, are not so much based on plot as on human interaction and on the fact that “the unexplained was unexplained not because there was anything beyond explanation, but simply because the ordinary, day-to-day explanation had not made itself apparent. Once one began to enquire, so-called mysteries rapidly tended to become something more prosaic” [p. 17]. How does Mma Ramotswes approach to the detectives profession differ from that found in other detective novels you have read? Why is the mystery of the intruder left unresolved at the end of the story?
3. At the church service Mma Ramotswe reflects, “It was a time of sickness, and charity was sorely tested. There were mothers here, mothers who would leave children behind them if they were called” [p. 27]. The minister refers to “this cruel illness that stalks Africa” [p. 31]. While the book doesnt refer directly to HIV/AIDS, how does this deadly epidemic inflect McCall Smiths presentation of modern Botswana, as well as his presentation of Mma Ramotswes state of mind?
4. Is it surprising that Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi interfere in Charlies affair with the woman in the Mercedes? How do they justify this intervention?
5. The state of peoples clothes and hands, their manner of speaking, and countless other details are indicators from which we can make guesses about them. How does Mma Ramotswe conclude that Mr Polopetsi, regardless of having been in prison, is a good man [p. 52]? Why was she not, in the past, similarly observant about the character of Note Mokoti?
6. Why do Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi have nothing to say when Mr Polopetsi finishes the story of how he went to jail?
7. What does Mma Ramotswe think of the irresponsible behavior of men like Charlie and its effects on their lives and the lives of people around them? Why does she take a dim view of men on the whole, with the exception of men like Mr J. L. B. Matekoni and Mr Polopetsi?
8. Like Jane Austen, McCall Smith is interested in manners. Think, for example, about how and why Grace eventually gained the courage to buy her own tea-pot so she could brew her own tea, how Mma Ramotswe apologized to Grace for assuming that she liked bush tea [p. 41], and how Charlie drained oil into that tea-pot [pp. 74-75]. Why are a persons manners such a precise indicator of his or her character?
9. How does Grace overcome her initial impression of Phuti Radiphuti, and what qualities does she come to see in him? As a reader, what is your impression of Rra Radiphuti?
10. Consider some of the beloved objects in the novel, like Mma Ramotswes tiny white van or Mma Makutsis lace handkerchief. What is their significance?
11. In the marriage of Mr J. L. B. Matekoni and Mma Ramotswe, much is left unsaid. For instance, when Note Mokoti comes to the garage, Rra Matekoni never asks Precious who this man is, and she doesnt feel obligated to tell him. Is this degree of privacy unusual in a marriage? Are the two characters very different from each other? What is the foundation of their relationship?
12. What is the effect of reading that Mma Ramotswe, who is thought of as indomitable by the other characters, succumbs to fear and weakness in the presence of Note Mokoti? What is the source of his power, and what does this reveal about her character, past and present? How does she manage to subdue her fear?
13. If you have read other books in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, do the stories feel like one continuous novel, or do the individual volumes stand as discrete novels independent of the others? Is it important, for understanding the characters and their situations, to read the books in order, or is the order irrelevant?
14. Book reviewers and fans all agree that the novels in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series give a great deal of reading pleasure. Does this pleasure mask their moral seriousness, or is their moral seriousness part of what makes them pleasurable?
15. A typographic design, repeating the word Africa, follows the novels final sentence. How does this affect your reading of the ending, and what emotions does it express?
“A literary confection of . . . gossamer deliciousness. . . . There is no end to the pleasure that may be extracted from this book.”
—The New York Times Book Review
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your groups discussion of Alexander McCall Smiths In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, the sixth novel in the acclaimed No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series.