Fantasy, Reality, Reviews and Drama Lessons from Gordon A. Long
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I am a great fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency” series. It gets five out of five stars from me any time. I have read the books. I have seen the TV shows. Then I got the videos from the library and watched them again. When I go to Africa, Botswana is first on my list of countries to visit.  So when a new book comes out, I jump on it with glee.



Which does not mean it gets an automatic five star review.
“The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon” has everything that the other books in the series have. Mma Ramotswe the lady detective– “traditional” in build, empathetic in nature, and loved by all – drives around the countryside and chats with people. In the process of listening to her conversations, we discover a marvelous amount about Botswana, its culture, and the people who live there. Oh, yes, and about the mysteries she is trying to solve. Maybe.


One of the reasons I want to visit the country is to find out if the quaint cultural traits that McCall Smith portrays are real. Do businesses really have such long and descriptive names? Surely most of the humour in the names is due to translation gap. Or is McCall Smith just creating a culture that doesn’t actually exist? I had to go to Hawaii to find out how incensed Hawaiians were at Michener’s 1959 novel about their history. So I’m really interested to hear what people of Botswana think of McCall Smith.



Whatever the background, I find the concept of this series fascinating and the characters unique. But in a detective story I also expect a certain degree of creativity in the crimes and their solutions, and a certain amount of urgency in the solving process, and I think this is where this book is lacking. The two crimes that Mma Ramotswe solves are interesting enough, but she doesn’t seem to spend too much time or emotional effort on them, and I don’t find myself especially concerned at their outcome. Nor do I feel that she shows any intense desire solve them.



In a series with plots that ramble, this one rambles more than most. And so does Mma Ramotswe. She doesn’t start to solve the main mystery until page 99. In fact, she is even more than usual a passive observer of problems that seem to solve themselves, through luck and the natural tendency of societies to heal themselves. She is much more interested in her Associate Detective, Mma Makutsi, and their relationship since the arrival of the new baby.



This story maintains the elements that attracted me to the series originally. Also, I am all in favour of detective novels that show us more than clues, technicalities and intricate details of police procedure. However I find this book has gone a little too far out of McCall's strengths and into the realm of soap opera. If you get the impression that I spent too much time in this review talking about Botswana, I think you've got the point.



I have commented in a previous review (Bertie Plays the Blues: August, 2013) that McCall Smith is too prolific a writer. I feel that, much though I enjoy his work, he should write fewer books, and spend more of his energy in demonstrating his skills on what he does write. This book does nothing to change that opinion.



Recommended for all “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” fans. If you haven’t read any of this series yet, I highly recommend one of the earlier books. Four stars out of five.

 
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Novel 
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Mind of the Beast

Brian and Juliet Freyermuth


As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

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Raven's Wing

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Hooligans

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Erik Kort


 
(Short Story)

Aine Greaney


Mysteries of Shetland

Anne Cleeves


Ravensblood

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The Cold Forever

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Ava's Man

Rick Bragg


Ava's Man

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The Best Laid Plans

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Wordscapist: the Myth

Arpan Panicker


Murder and Mendelssohn
Kerry Greenwood

Drawing Conclusions
Donna Leon

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon
Alexander McCall Smith

The Dead in their Vaulted Arches
Alan Bradley


The Commons Book 1

The Journeyman
Michael Alan Peck


At War With Satan
Steff Metal

Phobos: Mayan Fear
Steve Alten

Guystuff
Linton Robinson

The Great Gatsby
F. Scott Fitzgerald

You Can't Get There From Here
Gayle Forman

Psychic Warrior
T. D. McKinnon

Forager
Peter R. Stone

Butterman (Time Travel) Inc.
PK Hrezo

Winter Fire
Laurie Dubay 

Canadian Pie
Will Ferguson 

Bertie Plays the Blues
Alexander McCall Smith

Miss Timmins' School for Girls
Nayana Currimbhoy

Xenophobia
Peter Cawdron

The Twelve Rooms of the Nile
Enid Shomer

The Importance of Being Seven
Alexander McCall Smith

Cupcakes, Trinkets, and Other Deadly Magic
Meghan Ciana Doidge

Unnatural Habits
A Phryne Fisher Mystery

Kerry Greenwood

Strays
Book I of The Glaring Chronicles

Matthew Krause

The Hundred-Foot Journey
Richard C. Morais

The Crooked House
John Longeway

Eye Candy
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Season of the Harvest
Michael R. Hicks

Chronicles of Trellah Book I:
The Perpetual Rain

T. S. Graham


The Casual Vacancy
J. K. Rowling
Alexander McCall Smith
Charlotte Henley Babb

David Litwack 
G. T. Denny
John Patrick Gallagher
Cas Peace
Steve Umstead
L.M.Dewalt
J.W.Bacarro
Mark Everett Stone