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• Friday, April 24th, 2020

Alexander McCall Smith was born in 1948 to a Scottish family in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia), the youngest of four children. His father worked in Rhodesia as a public prosecutor in what was then a British colony. His mother wrote several unpublished manuscripts.

After finishing school in Rhodesia, McCall Smith moved to Scotland to study Law at Edinburgh University. After graduating, he worked as a professor in Scotland before returning to Botswana to teach law at the University that he managed to create.

He has received numerous prizes and awards and holds twelve honorary doctorates from universities in Europe and North America. In 2006 he was awarded a CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) for services to literature and in 2007 won an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Law in Edinburgh.

McCall Smith is a prolific and diverse writer, having produced an abundant and varied number of books ranging from children’s tales to picture books to legal textbooks to novels. But he became internationally known through his Botswana detective series, first published in 1998. The sequel in English sold millions of copies around the world and was translated into many languages. It was made into a television series and broadcast on BBC1 TV in 2008. He currently lives in Edinburgh with Dr Elisabeth Parry, whom he married in 1982 and from whom he has two daughters.

In one of his interviews, McCall Smith admits that when he wrote the first book of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, published in 1998, he became so fond of the Precious Ramotswe character that he could not let her go. The story became a sequel of nineteen books published to date.

In our United Nations Book Club, we already read the number two of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency: Tears Of The Giraffe, published in 2000. This time we are discussing the eighth of this same series published in 2007: The Good Husband Of Zebra Drive.

The story of The Good Husband Of Zebra Drive is set in Gaborone in Botswana. It is about the leading character, the professional premier private lady detective, the “traditionally built”, Mma Precious Ramotswe, who is in her forties. Her associate, Mma Grace Makutsi, is in her early thirties and Mma Ramotswe’s husband, the mechanic, Mr J. L. B. Matekoni, is a garage owner in Tlokweng Road called “Speedy Motors”. He shares with his wife, the same premises of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

In this eighth volume of the series, there are three intersecting investigations for the Detective Agency. First, the three deaths in the Mochudi Hospital where Mma Ramotswe, distant cousin, Rra Tati Monyena works. The three deaths have occurred in the intensive care unit within the last six months, all of them on Fridays at the same time and in the same bed. The second case concerns a disagreeable woman, the condescending, Mma Botumile, who wants to know if her husband is having an affair with another woman. As for the third one, it is about Mma Magama called Teenie, the small businesswoman, who reports repeated theft at her printing company.

The characters are captivating and well depicted. Mma Ramotswe, like Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, has an exceptional understanding of human psyche as well as a sharp sixth sense for solving mysteries. She is always tolerant, warm-hearted and compassionate towards people around her. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni is described as a skilled mechanic as well as being a good, dear husband. He has been waiting for the opportunity to test himself as a detective and took it when the Botumile case presented itself.

Mma Grace Makutsi, who thinks highly of herself after obtaining an excellent diploma from the Botswana Secretarial College, is considering quitting her job at the Detective Agency now that she is engaged to be married to the stammering, bashful, but rich, Phuti Radiphuti.

The ambitious young man, Charlie, one of Mr J.L.B. Matekoni’s apprentices, wants to run his own taxi service and call it “No.1 Ladies’ Taxi Service”. Charlie is attracted to girls and danger arises when his first passenger is a good-looking woman. He gets distracted while driving by glancing at her through his rear-view mirror. Charlie doesn’t notice the traffic lights going red against him, nor does he see the truck heading towards him and the impact is inevitable. Luckily there are no deaths or injuries. Nevertheless, the second hand Mercedes-Benz he bought by instalments from Mr J.L.B. Matekoni is now suitable for scrap.

There are essential elements prominent throughout the narrative: dignity, courtesy and respect, which form part of the culture of the Botswana people and is revealed in the story through their everyday behaviour. The tone of the novel is rather humoristic, cheerful and optimistic in the most simplistic way due to the author’s fluent writing as well as his sympathetic portrayal of all his characters, showing, like Mma Ramotswe, his fondness for Botswana and its kind warm-hearted people.

Category: Book Reviews
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