read_warbler (read_warbler) wrote,

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

I've now read two books for my What's in a Name challenge and thought I was doing well until I saw that some have already finished it. I suppose I like to spread my challenges out a bit - each to his own, as they say. Anyway, my latest for this one is The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith. It is, I think, book eight in his Mma Ramotswe series of books and is my read for the 'life stage' section of this challenge.

Mma Rammotswe's friend and colleague, Grace Makutsi, is now engaged to Phuti Radiphuti, owner of a local furniture store. Mma Makutsi's circumstances are now completely the reverse to when she started at the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency, when she was very poor, unable to find employment despite excellent results from her secretarial college, and looking after a very sick brother. Her fiance is a wealthy man and she really has very little need to work at all any more and thus, little things with her job are starting to annoy her... mainly her employer's tendency to find fault with Mma Makutsi's habit of plain speaking, sometimes to the point of rudeness.

Other changes are afoot. Mma Ramotswe's husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matakoni wants to take a more active role in the detective agency and is given a case to investigate. And Charlie, the older of his apprentices, wants to leave the garage where he's an apprentice mechanic, and start a taxi business.

Cases are piling up. The rudest woman in Gabarone wants to know who her husband is having an affair with. A printing business is experiencing petty theft - its owner thinks she knows who the culprit is but needs proof. And in Mma Ramotswe's home village of Mochudi a cousin has reported three deaths in the hospital where he works. It seems the deaths have all taken place in the same bed, in the same ward, on the same day of the week and at the same time. It's peculiar to say the least. Precious investigates but meets a wall of silence, no one, it seems, knows anything. The other two cases are investigated by Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni and Mma Makutsi, but all three eventually surprise everyone with their outcomes.

I never fail to be charmed by this series. Someone (I can't remember who now) on My Life in Books had the first book as one of their book choices. They said that the crime element is really incidental and I would agree with that wholeheartedly. They're really all about the people in them, their relationships with each other, how it's possible to make the world a better place by treating one another with decency and kindness. I would call these books - and thus the author - wise because he stresses in every book that things are not always black and white. People do things for reasons that are not always obvious, sometimes they just don't know any better. In Africa it's often the case that if you sack the breadwinner a whole family starves or a dependent relative who is HIV positive will die for lack of medical attention. These things have to be considered and consider them Mma Ramotswe does. That's probably why she's one of my favourite characters in literature at the moment.

It's all done with such gentle hunour too. Mma Makutsi's 97% at secretarial college is a constant source of wry amusement. But it's often her personal musings that tickle me the most:

... she found herself looking down on the top of Teenie's head; at a small woollen bobble, in fact, which topped a curious tea-cosy style knitted cap which she was wearing. She looked more closely at it, wondering if she could make out an opening through which a tea pot spout might project; she could not see an opening, but there was a very similar tea cosy in the office, she remembered, and perhaps she or Mma Ramotswe might wear it on really cold days. She imagined how Mma Ramotswe would look in a tea cosy and decided that she would probably look rather good: it might add to her authority, perhaps, in some indefinable way.

Oh yes... I can just imagine Mma Ramotswe's face if Grace suggested she put a tea cosy on her head. ;-)

What I would say is that if you like to read only proper crime books then this series is probably not for you. But if you have an interest in Africa and its people, in the dynamics of family or working relationships or just simply love people centred books with a bit of philosophy thrown in, then you could do a lot worse than try this delightful series of books. They're certainly one of my all-time favourite comfort reads.
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