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To the Land of Long Lost Friends: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (20)


To the Land of Long Lost Friends: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (20)

It was in 1998 that the world was introduced to Mma Precious Ramotswe. She was the owner and proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and was in fact the only lady detective in all of Botswana. Her office, tucked into a spare room at the side of her husband’s auto repair shop on Zebra Road in Gabarone, would instantly become the home of not only the most famous lady detective in Botswana, but the most remarkable lady detective in the literary world.

As I am drawn to mysteries both for pleasure and as a reviewer, the title alone grabbed my attention. By about page 10, it became evident that Alexander McCall Smith had created no Edgar Allan Poe or Ellery Queen whodunit. It definitely was not a Lee Child or Michael Connelly thriller either. No, this was a mystery novel unlike any other that soon captured the hearts of millions of readers from around the world.

It is now 20 years and as many books later in an entirely new century of cell phones, computers and urban growth in the once quiet town of Gabarone. Our hearts and minds were opened to this enchanted place that seemed untouched by time. But it was no Camelot --- it was reality. AIDS, drugs, poverty and even the immense wealth of the diamond mines would loom large in the understory of the lives in Mma Ramotswe’s world.

"As ever, this book led me to laugh, weep and delight in the wonder of the continent that Smith once called home."

In this latest installment, Precious and her top associate detective, Mma Makutsi (who received a final score of 97% at her secretarial college, should we need reminding), have taken Charlie, her husband’s inept mechanic, on board as a detective trainee. Charlie tends to allow his 20-year-old mind to be distracted by the clubs and the ladies, but he has recently fallen in love and wants to marry Queenie-Queenie, the daughter of a well-to-do local businessman. However, he must raise money for the bride price, which in Botswana is paid in cattle. It would require perhaps 20 cows, or the equivalent value thereof, to meet the traditional custom. This is unlikely at Charlie’s meager wages as a detective trainee, so his bride-to-be suggests that he talk to her brother, who runs a dubious business out of a local bar. Will he take the bait?

When Precious runs into a friend from long ago who is distressed that her grown daughter has cut her off, she is tempted to investigate. She discovers that the daughter is deeply involved with a charismatic preacher, but hesitates to interfere since her old friend has not asked for help.

While visiting her friend Mma Potokwane at her orphanage for red tea and a slice or two of her famous fruitcake, Precious attracts the attention of a toddler orphan girl whose mother was killed by a rogue elephant. The mother also had the dreaded disease that continues to plague their country. The baby has inherited the disease but is taking medicine provided by International Medical Support and should recover. However, she needs a temporary home until she can go live with her adoptive parents. Precious struggles with the decision to take the child in, adding to her already busy household, which includes two other orphans she has adopted.

If you are a follower of Precious’ approach to sleuthing, you know that there is much more to solving life’s mysteries than getting to the root of the crime, if any. Smith’s tales tend toward the philosophical as we learn more about the Africa of his heart while mourning its tragedies.

TO THE LAND OF LONG LOST FRIENDS delivers a moving, often poignant yet uplifting note on the loss of the old ways of African village life, and the stresses of modern population growth amid the poverty and deprivation.

As ever, this book led me to laugh, weep and delight in the wonder of the continent that Smith once called home. He was born in Botswana, educated in Edinburgh and returned to Botswana to teach law. His elegant prose and deep understanding of its people and their ways are like a balm in our real world as headlines shout of cataclysmic disaster.

And Africa, suffering from the longest drought in history, waits. The rains will come.

I missed the opportunity to meet Alexander McCall Smith when he was on a recent book tour in a nearby city. Had I been able to ask him only one question, it would have been this: Are there plans in the works to revive the television series featuring these wondrous characters from a decade ago? We sorely need the soothing drama and wisdom of Precious Ramotswe.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on November 1, 2019

To the Land of Long Lost Friends: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (20)
by Alexander McCall Smith

  • Publication Date: September 1, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 0525564276
  • ISBN-13: 9780525564270