ASK anybody outside southern Africa to name a famous Botswanan and almost invariably they will respond with “that Precious woman – you know, the one in the book”. Much of the world knows little about day-to-day happenings in Botswana yet millions of readers are relatively familiar with the culture through a line-up of endearing characters created by British author Alexander McCall Smith.
In the latest instalment in his The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, McCall Smith has business partners Mma Precious Ramotswe and Mma Grace Makutsi turn their focus back 30 years to an era in which their city, Gaborone, was just a dusty country town. Their detective agency is engaged to help locate the childhood home and classroom friend of a visiting Canadian, born in Gaborone and cared for in her early years by a nurse known only as “Rosie”.
As Precious – a proud, independent Tswana “of traditional build” – and her less full-figured but more conservative business partner set about tracing their client’s roots, their investigative path diverges, testing their professional bond.
At the same time Precious is confounded by an occasional employee’s advocacy of a seemingly too-good-to-be-true cattle-fattening scheme that threatens both the friendships and the finances of their social group.
Throw the unplanned adoption of a stray dog and an ongoing feud with a fellow female entrepreneur into the mix and this is a heart-warming literary adventure that weaves together unexpected storylines played out against an exotic setting by a genuinely charismatic cast.
McCall Smith’s writing is generous and intimate, laying bare the types of issues that exist in contemporary Botswanan society.
As is the case with all good series, it is not necessary for readers to have met these people or places through any of the previous 16 novels; Previous and Grace stands comfortably on its own two feet.