The Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe by Alexander McCall Smith: A review

The Handsome Man's De Luxe Café: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (15) (A Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Book for Young Readers)The Handsome Man's De Luxe Café: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (15) by Knopf Canada
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Precious Ramotswe's ruminations while driving her tiny white van around Gaborone and seeing a cow and calf standing under a tree:

We could stand under trees too, and look about us, and think about things. Not only could we do that, she thought, but we should. It was called meditation - she knew that - but she did not consider that we needed a special word for standing under a tree and thinking. People had been doing that well before meditation was invented. There were many things, she reflected, which we had been doing as long as anybody could remember and which had suddenly been taken up by fashionable enthusiasts and given an unnecessary new name. Mma Ramotswe had been invited to a Pilates class in a local church hall; it would be of great benefit to her, she had been told. But when she had gone to the class and seen what Pilates was, she had realised that she did not need to pay fifty pula a session to do the things that she had been doing for years anyway; lifting and pushing and stretching your muscles was nothing new; she did all of those things when she worked in her garden...  - from the chapter "Pilates With Cake." 

Of course, we don't read No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency stories for their "mysteries." We read them for the indefatigable good humor and faith in human nature (especially Botswanan human nature) expressed in the philosophizing of Mma Precious Ramotswe, the agency's founder. Philosophizing which often occurs as she is traveling the roads of Gaborone in her faithful little van.

The mysteries investigated by this unique agency are always the everyday mysteries of human life in Gaborone, Botswana. This time a kindhearted brother and sister request Mma Ramotswe's assistance in helping a woman, who is supposedly suffering from amnesia, to find out who she is. They claim that she turned up at their home without any identification and that she could remember nothing about herself. But when Mma Ramotswe and her new co-director Grace Makutsi visit the home, Precious notices a clue which leads her to think that the story may be a bit more complicated.

Meanwhile, Grace Makutsi seems to have been energized by her new role of motherhood and by being "promoted" to co-director of the detective agency. She is ready to take on new challenges. She wants to become an entrepreneur and in the pursuit of that goal, she decides to open a restaurant with the help of her husband Phuti's financial backing. In inimitable Makutsi fashion, she names her restaurant "The Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe" because she believes that will attract Gaborone's most fashionable diners. She has much to learn about running a restaurant, hiring and managing a staff, and ensuring good service to her customers. Disaster threatens but friends come to her rescue.  

Next door to the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors is also facing some hard decisions. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni must finally acknowledge that he is only able to pay one apprentice mechanic. Thus, one of the young men who has worked for him for many years and is like part of the family must be let go. And that young man does not take his dismissal well. Consequently, Precious makes a decision of her own - she will take on an "apprentice detective"!

This fifteenth entry in the series has all the elements that we fans have come to treasure over the years. Primarily, it has the sympathetic, loving character of the traditionally built proud woman of Botswana Precious Ramotswe. Spending time with her once again as she ponders over why a woman would pretend to have lost her memory, how to tactfully help a proud friend who perhaps does not realize what trouble she is in, and how to offer a way forward to a feckless but good-hearted young man who seems to have run out of options is like being warmly embraced once again by a dear friend after a long separation.

Alexander McCall Smith's writing in these books seems absolutely effortless. The stories seem to flow organically. I suspect that that illusion of effortlessness is just that - an illusion - and that he works quite hard at getting the atmosphere and the iconic speech patterns of the characters just right. As a devoted reader, I am glad that he chooses to make that effort.

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  1. I think that effortlessness in writing is ever so hardly accomplished...Few authors have achieved it. I always marvel at the ones who do.

    1. I think you are correct. Seeming effortlessness takes a lot of effort!


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