In this latest installment in the cherished No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Mma Ramotswe must balance family obligations with the growing needs of one of Charlie’s pet projects.
Precious Ramotswe loves her dependable old van. Yes, it sometimes takes a bit longer to get going now, and it has developed some quirks over the years, but it has always gotten the job done. This time, though, the world—and Charlie—may be asking too much of it, for when he borrows the beloved vehicle, he returns it damaged. And, to make matters worse, the interior seems to have acquired an earthy smell that even Precious can’t identify.
But the olfactory issue is not the only mystery that needs solving. Mma Ramotswe is confronted by a distant relative, Blessing, who asks for help with an ailing cousin. The help requested is of a distinctly pecuniary nature, which makes both Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni and Mma Makutsi suspicious. And there is no peace at home, either, as the new neighbors are airing their marital grievances rather loudly. Still, Mma Ramotswe is confident that the solutions to all of these difficulties are there to be discovered—as long as she is led by kindness, grace, and logic and can rely on the counsel of her friends and loved ones.
In Smith's leisurely 21st No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novel (after 2019's To the Land of Long Lost Friends), Blessing Mompati, a distant cousin of Precious Ramotse, the agency's head, needs money to pay for a hip replacement for her friend Tefo Kgomo. Tefo, a South African who's lived for years in Botswana, can't get citizenship because he's been convicted of stock theft and is ineligible for health care. Mma Ramotse and her assistant, Grace Makutsi, suspect Blessing and Tefo are lying. When a couple move into the house next door to Mma Ramotse and her husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, she's distressed to overhear them arguing. Meanwhile, Charlie, who works for Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's garage, is keeping an orphaned baby elephant outside his uncle's house. The effort to find a permanent home for the animal generates a little suspense, along with some comment on the plight of the desperate people who kill elephants for their ivory. Minimal detective work leads to the resolution of all three situations. Series fans will be charmed, as usual, by the conversations between Mwa Ramotse and her friends on such topics as the usefulness of men and the benefits of bush tea, but this isn't the place to start for newcomers.