FICTION
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LIFE

Book review: The Handsome Man's De Luxe Café by Alexander McCall Smith

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 08 November, 2014, 11:11pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 08 November, 2014, 11:11pm

The Handsome Man's De Luxe Café
by Alexander McCall Smith
Pantheon

Prolific author Alexander McCall Smith's African female sleuth, Precious Ramotswe, returns in the 15th instalment of the hugely popular No1 Ladies' Detective Agency series of novels.

Just like the other episodic, languidly paced stories, The Handsome Man's De Luxe Café mixes McCall Smith's gentle humour with wry observations about the characters, customs and culture found today in Botswana's dusty capital, Gaborone.

Ramotswe, who founded the agency, once more comes to the rescue of her troubled clients, while also solving problems facing her friends and colleagues using her intuition, acute understanding of human nature and an uncanny talent for spotting tiny details that help her to uncover the truth.

An Indian man and his sister ask for her help in discovering the identity of a middle-aged woman, who they say has come to their home for help after claiming to have lost her memory.

Yet Ramotswe soon finds herself distracted when her husband, Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, who runs a local garage, tells her he needs to sack a long-serving mechanic, Charlie, because profits have fallen dramatically.

Grace Makutsi, her loyal former secretary-turned-detective, who has been newly promoted as partner in the detective agency, is planning to open her own restaurant, The Handsome Man's De Luxe Café, but finds the new enterprise is much more challenging than she expected.

The cake-loving Ramotswe, a woman of "traditional build", first appeared in print as a short story that McCall Smith, born in what is now Zimbabwe, wrote for his friends. At the time he was working as a professor of medical law at Edinburgh University in Scotland, but the success of the first novel in 1999 led him to focus on writing full time. The book was turned into a 2008 television film, with other books adapted into a short-lived television series.

More than 20 million copies of the English-language versions have been sold, while the series has been translated into 45 languages. McCall Smith, 66, is also the author of four other series and more than 30 children's books.

McCall Smith's uplifting and richly rewarding narrative has a slow yet pleasing lightness about it. He allows the focus to drift, frequently settling on trivial and mundane happenings, such as a character's daydreaming - just like people do in real life - before returning to the patient, good-hearted Ramotswe.

It's almost as if Ramotswe is explaining McCall Smith's appeal as she offers advice to Charlie about how he should try to keep someone under surveillance on his first day as a detective.

"… Watch carefully. Be patient. Rome wasn't built in a day."

Charlie was puzzled. "What's this about Rome?"

"Well, it's all about taking time to do things," explained Mma Ramotswe. "So don't rush this."