New in paperback, the 11th book in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, The Double Comfort Safari Club, by Alexander McCall Smith, does not disappoint. McCall Smith, one of the most prolific writers around, once agin crafts a deceptively leisurely tale featuring the best (and only lady) detective in Botswana, Precious Ramotswe.
Mma Ramotswe, to use the correct and respectful title for the traditionally-built detective, once again must navigate an assortment of problems, mostly related to maters of the heart. As her secretary, no, make that Assistant Detective, Mma Makutsi notes, everyone, including herself, comes to Mma Ramotswe when something is bothering them. She has a way of making a person feel better. "Mma Ramotswe was always willing to talk about weighty matters — you could talk to her about something as simple as the weather or the price of sausages, and you would come away reassured. Perhaps the weather was not going to be as dry and hot as everybody feared — perhaps there really would be good rains; perhaps sausages were not as expensive as they appeared to be, given that they contained all that meat, and there was no wastage with a sausage."
Jill Scott as Precious Ramotswe, from the HBO series based on the books
McCall Smith is very much like Precious Ramotswe. His books are always a balm. Problems of ethics and affairs of the heart are introduced, but they always have a solution. It may not always be the happiest outcome for everyone involved, but it is usually the correct one. Mma Ramotswe understands what is most important in life — kindness — and she tries to approach every situation with that in mind. Even when she is physically restraining an angry woman, someone whom she has just informed will not be successful in her scam to cheat one of Mma Ramotswe's clients, she still manages to find compassion for the woman, feeling sorry for her, knowing that her bad behavior comes from a deep inner well of unhappiness. Mma Ramotswe is not a detective in the tradition of Philip Marlowe or even Miss Marple. She is as much a guru as an unraveler of puzzles.
The Double Comfort Safari Club is a continuation of the day-to-day lives of Mma Ramotswe and those she loves, but can also be read and enjoyed out of sequence from the rest of the series. If you had read an earlier novel, taking place before Mma Makutsi had become engaged, as you are reading this book you might think to yourself, "Ah, Mma Makutsi has become engaged, good for her, she deserves some happiness," much as you might remark hearing the fact from Mma Ramotswe herself, telling you over a cup of strong redbush tea.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of the book, apart from the interactions between all of the very different characters, is that these people all ponder. Lots of different things, and their pondering is always entertaining to read. McCall Smith has a gift for being able to write in the many different voices of his very individual characters. Maybe it is the pace of life in Botswana, or the open vistas that influence so much reflection, but it has a soothing, beneficial effect on the reader.
McCall Smith's books are never boring — there is always plenty going on. It's surprising how many little plot threads are introduced and resolved by book's end. There is an overall sense of life taking time, and that in itself is good. As Mma Ramotswe is waiting to meet with a client, a nature guide from the Double Comfort Safari Club, she is told by his supervisor, who looks out at the setting sun, that he will be back soon. "Mma Ramotswe noticed the glance at the sun. People who lived in towns had stopped doing that — they had watches to enslave them. Here in the bush it was different: what the watch said was less important than what the sun said, and that, she thought, was the way it should be."