To the Land of Long Lost Friends by Alexander McCall Smith: A review

As the year winds down, I have been catching up on some of the series that I have read faithfully over the years. Now it is time to head off to Botswana to visit with the practitioners at the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. It is no. 1 and the only ladies' detective agency in Botswana.

This is the twentieth entry in this series that has been going since 1998 and I've been reading them for just about that long. This is a mystery series virtually without blood or violence. Instead, the mysteries generally feature a common moral dilemma of the human condition. Dilemmas which allow Precious Ramotswe, the founder and proprietor of the agency a chance to ruminate philosophically and humorously as she considers how to respond to the dilemma. We are always privy to Precious' thoughts throughout the narrative and at one point, she thinks:
"The bad behaviour with which No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency was concerned was not really all that bad. They saw selfishness and greed; they saw vanity, and its cousin, insecurity. They did not see major cruelties, nor great frauds and dishonesties."
That about sums up the formula which Alexander McCall Smith has perfected with these books. Almost invariably the books end on a high note with a solution that preserves the dignity of the aggrieved party and the miscreant.

In this instance, Precious unexpectedly encounters an old friend whom she had thought was long dead. It turns out the report of death had been a case of mistaken identity and, in a country where the 24-hour news cycle does not apply, Precious had never received that word. She is delighted to meet with her friend but she soon learns that the friend is very troubled concerning the behavior of her adult daughter. Mother and daughter had long had a close, warm relationship, but suddenly the daughter has grown cold and is avoiding her. She doesn't understand what has happened.

Precious is sympathetic to her friend's problem and even though she doesn't ask for the help of a detective, Precious decides that she will try to get to the bottom of the situation. Her investigation, predictably, leads her into some related problems which may also need to be addressed.

Meanwhile, Charlie, her apprentice detective and lifelong apprentice mechanic at Mr. J.L.B. Makatoni's garage, is having romantic problems. He and his girlfriend, the rather hilariously named Queenie-Queenie, want to get married, but the custom of the bride-price still holds in traditional Botswanan society and Charlie has no money and no cattle. Moreover, Queenie-Queenie comes from quite a wealthy family and he fears he will never be able to amass sufficient funds to meet the price that he imagines would be expected.

These then are the moral dilemmas that are addressed in this gentle "mystery". There's also a sidebar concerning a little girl, orphaned by the death of her mother who was suffering from AIDS but who was killed by an elephant. A solution was found for her, too, and yes, it brought tears to my eyes. 

These books are very well written and are so relaxing to read. They are like a vacation for the mind. You wouldn't want to be on permanent vacation but it is nice to have such a break every now and then.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars  

Comments

  1. These long running series can be both entertaining and comforting. It is also impressive that an author can produce twenty books in a series, though I know that some are a lot longer. My wife has been considering starting this series.

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    1. If she enjoys rambling ruminations about philosophy and the human condition with just a little bit of mystery thrown in for leavening, this might be just the series for her!

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  2. There is a nice house on my street for sale. Why don't you buy it and move north? I can only imagine the delightful conversations we would have over morning coffee. And Miriam makes the world's best blueberry muffins! Of course, you would also be invited on our bird walks.

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    1. But my husband always tells me I make the best blueberry muffins! Those bird walks are tempting though...

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  3. I might have to give this series a try. Are they stand-alones or should I start at the beginning, if I take it up?

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    1. I would recommend starting at the beginning because the relationships change and evolve throughout the series and that contributes to understanding the action and appreciating the nuances of the narrative.

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  4. This is the second book I have seen reviewed today in which a mother's daughters are talking to her. What is the matter with kids today?

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  5. I love long running series because when I read the next one it's like coming home again. It's safe and fun. I'm glad this series is that for you!

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    1. I have several such series going and now I'm playing catch up with a few of them.

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  6. Yeah I read Book 1 of this series long ago and enjoyed it. Are there really now 20 in the series? I like how it's like traveling to Africa ... and the protagonist is fun.

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    1. There are indeed twenty and now I've read them all!

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  7. Replies
    1. The books in this series typically have very nice covers.

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