Skip to main content



The Double Comfort Safari Club: The New No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Novel


No car, thought Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, that great mechanic, and
good man. No car . . .

He paused. It was necessary, he felt, to order the mind when one
was about to think something profound. And Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni was
at that moment on the verge of an exceptionally important thought,
even though its final shape had yet to reveal itself. How much
easier it was for Mma Ramotswe --- she put things so well, so
succinctly, so profoundly, and appeared to do this with such little
effort. It was very different if one was a mechanic, and therefore
not used to telling people --- in the nicest possible way, of
course --- how to run their lives. Then one had to think quite hard
to find just the right words that would make people sit up and say,
“But that is very true, Rra!” Or, especially if you
were Mma Ramotswe, “But surely that is well known!”

He had very few criticisms to make of Precious Ramotswe, his
wife and founder of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, but
if one were to make a list of her faults --- which would be a
minuscule document, barely visible, indeed, to the naked eye ---
one would perhaps have to include a tendency (only a slight
tendency, of course) to claim that things that she happened to
believe were well known. This phrase gave these beliefs a sort of
unassailable authority, the status that went with facts that all
right-thinking people would readily acknowledge --- such as the
fact that the sun rose in the east, over the undulating canopy of
acacia that stretched along Botswana’s border, over the
waters of the great Limpopo River itself that now, at the height of
the rainy season, flowed deep and fast towards the ocean half a
continent away. Or the fact that Seretse Khama had been the first
President of Botswana; or even the truism that Botswana was one of
the finest and most peaceful countries in the world. All of these
facts were indeed both incontestable and well known; whereas Mma
Ramotswe’s pronouncements, to which she attributed the
special status of being well known, were often, rather, statements
of opinion. There was a difference, thought Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni,
but it was not one he was planning to point out; there were some
things, after all, that it was not helpful for a husband
to say to his wife and that, he thought, was probably one of

Now, his thoughts having been properly marshalled, the right
words came to him in a neat, economical expression: No car is
entirely perfect
. That was what he wanted to say, and these
words were all that was needed to say it. So he said it once more.
No car is entirely perfect.

In his experience, which was considerable --- as the proprietor
of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors and attending physician, therefore,
to a whole fleet of middle-ranking cars --- every vehicle had its
bad points, its foibles, its rattles, its complaints; and this, he
thought, was the language of machinery, those idiosyncratic engine
sounds by which a car would strive to communicate with those with
ears to listen, usually mechanics. Every car had its good points
too: a comfortable driving seat, perhaps, moulded over the years to
the shape of the car’s owner, or an engine that started the
first time without hesitation or complaint, even on the coldest
winter morning, when the air above Botswana was dry and crisp and
sharp in the lungs. Each car, then, was an individual, and if only
he could get his apprentices to grasp that fact, their work might
be a little bit more reliable and less prone to require redoing by
him. Push, shove, twist: these were no mantras for a good
mechanic. Listen, coax, soothe: that should be the motto
inscribed above the entrance to every garage; that, or the words
which he had once seen printed on the advertisement for a garage in
Francistown: Your car is ours.

That slogan, persuasive though it might have sounded, had given
him pause. It was a little ambiguous, he decided: on the one hand,
it might be taken to suggest that the garage was in the business of
taking people’s cars away from them --- an unfortunate choice
of words if read that way. On the other, it could mean that the
garage staff treated clients’ cars with the same care that
they treated their own. That, he thought, is what they meant, and
it would have been preferable if they had said it. It is always
better to say what you mean
--- it was his wife, Mma Ramotswe,
who said that, and he had always assumed that she meant it.

No, he mused: there is no such thing as a perfect car, and if
every car had its good and bad points, it was the same with people.
Just as every person had his or her little ways --- habits that
niggled or irritated others, annoying mannerisms, vices and
failings, moments of selfishness --- so too did they have their
good points: a winning smile, an infectious sense of humour, the
ability to cook a favourite dish just the way you wanted it.

That was the way the world was; it was composed of a few almost
perfect people (ourselves); then there were a good many people who
generally did their best but were not all that perfect (our friends
and colleagues); and finally, there were a few rather nasty ones
(our enemies and opponents). Most people fell into that middle
group --- those who did their best --- and the last group was,
thankfully, very small and not much in evidence in places like
Botswana, where he was fortunate enough to live.

These reflections came to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni while he was
driving his tow-truck down the Lobatse Road. He was on what Mma
Ramotswe described as one of his errands of mercy. In this case he
was setting out to rescue the car of one Mma Constance Mateleke, a
senior and highly regarded midwife and, as it happened, a
long-standing friend of Mma Ramotswe. She had called him from the
roadside. “Quite dead,” said Mma Mateleke through the
faint, crackling line of her mobile phone. “Stopped. Plenty
of petrol. Just stopped like that, Mr. Matekoni. Dead.”

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni smiled to himself. “No car dies for
ever,” he consoled her. “When a car seems to
die, it is sometimes just sleeping. Like Lazarus, you know.”
He was not quite sure of the analogy. As a boy he had heard the
story of Lazarus at Sunday School in Molepolole, but his
recollection was now hazy. It was many years ago, and the stories
of that time, the real, the made-up, the long-winded tales of the
old people --- all of these had a tendency to get mixed up and
become one. There were seven lean cows in somebody’s dream,
or was it five lean cows and seven fat ones?

“So you are calling yourself Jesus Christ now, are you,
Mr. Matekoni? No more Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, is it? Jesus
Christ Motors now?” retorted Mma Mateleke. “You say
that you can raise cars from the dead. Is that what you’re

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni chuckled. “Certainly not. No, I am
just a mechanic, but I know how to wake cars up. That is not a
special thing. Any mechanic can wake a car.” Not apprentices,
though, he thought.

“We’ll see,” she said. “I have great
faith in you, Mr. Matekoni, but this car seems very sick now. And
time is running away. Perhaps we should stop talking on the phone
and you should be getting into your truck to come and help

So it was that he came to be travelling down the Lobatse Road,
on a pleasantly fresh morning, allowing his thoughts to wander on
the broad subject of perfection and flaws. On either side of the
road the country rolled out in a grey-green carpet of thorn bush,
stretching off into the distance, to where the rocky outcrops of
the hills marked the end of the land and the beginning of the sky.
The rains had brought thick new grass sprouting up between the
trees; this was good, as the cattle would soon become fat on the
abundant sweet forage it provided. And it was good for Botswana
too, as fat cattle meant fat people --- not too fat, of course, but
well-fed and prosperous-looking; people who were happy to be who
they were and where they were.

Yes, thought Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, even if no country was
absolutely perfect, Botswana, surely, came as close as one could
get. He closed his eyes in contentment, and then quickly remembered
that he was driving, and opened them again. A car behind him ---
not a car that he recognised --- had driven to within a few feet of
the rear of his tow-truck, and was aggressively looking for an
opportunity to pass. The problem, though, was that the Lobatse Road
was busy with traffic coming the other way, and there was a vehicle
in front of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni that was in no hurry to get
anywhere; it was a driver like Mma Potokwane, he imagined, who
ambled along and frequently knocked the gear-stick out of gear as
she waved her hand to emphasise some point she was making to a
passenger. Yet Mma Potokwane, and this slow driver ahead of him, he
reminded himself, had a right to take things gently if they wished.
Lobatse would not go away, and whether one reached it at eleven in
the morning or half past eleven would surely matter very

He looked in his rear-view mirror. He could not make out the
face of the driver, who was sitting well back in his seat, and he
could not therefore engage in eye contact with him. He should calm
down, thought Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, rather than . . . His line of
thought was interrupted by the sudden swerving of the other vehicle
as it pulled over sharply to the left. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, well
versed as he was in the ways of every sort of driver, gripped his
steering wheel hard and muttered under his breath. What was being
attempted was that most dangerous of manoeuvres --- overtaking on
the wrong side.

He steered a steady course, carefully applying his brakes so as
to allow the other driver ample opportunity to effect his passing
as quickly as possible. Not that he deserved the consideration, of
course, but Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni knew that when another driver did
something dangerous it was best to allow him to finish what he was
doing and get out of the way.

In a cloud of dust and gravel chips thrown up off the unpaved
verge of the road, the impatient car shot past, before swerving
again to get back onto the tarmac. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni felt the
urge to lean on his horn and flash his lights in anger, but he did
neither of these things. The other driver knew that what he had
done was wrong; there was no need to engage in an abusive exchange
which would lead nowhere, and would certainly not change that
driver’s ways. “You do not change people by shouting at
them,” Mma Ramotswe had once observed. And she was right:
sounding one’s horn, shouting --- these were much the same
things, and achieved equally little.

And then an extraordinary thing happened. The impatient driver,
his illegal manoeuvre over, and now clear of the tow-truck, looked
in his mirror and gave a scrupulously polite thank-you wave to Mr.
J.L.B. Matekoni. And Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, taken by surprise,
responded with an equally polite wave of acknowledgement, as one
would reply to any roadside courtesy or show of good driving
manners. That was the curious thing about Botswana; even when
people were rude --- and some degree of human rudeness was
inevitable --- they were rude in a fairly polite way.

Excerpted from THE DOUBLE COMFORT SAFARI CLUB: The New No. 1
Ladies' Detective Agency Novel © Copyright 2011 by Alexander
McCall Smith. Reprinted with permission by Pantheon. All rights

The Double Comfort Safari Club: The New No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Novel
by by Alexander McCall Smith

  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Pantheon
  • ISBN-10: 0375424504
  • ISBN-13: 9780375424502