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by Alexander McCall Smith
Knopf Canada, March 2011
224 pages
$24.95 CAD
ISBN: 0307398269

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

According to a French saying, life is a long quiet river. Except for a few bumps and snags, it depicts perfectly Mma Ramotswe's Botswana, where life is slow and people are for the most part polite and decent. Thankfully for her however, human nature prevails and a few of her fellow-citizens have lower moral standards, allowing her to earn her living as a detective. No major ugly crimes mind you, just the nasty daily dealings of unscrupulous, greedy people.

This time, the main problem is uglier than usual with the killing of two cows, a sacrilege in a country where cattle is a major component of the economy and a standard of wealth. With quite a few suspects, Mma Ramotswe has her plate full trying to decipher the situation and finding the culprit. But will she?

During her investigation, she is haunted by the unexpected apparition of her beloved white van which she thought had been destroyed. Is it really the same van? On a more human level, there is also Charlie, her husband's young hot-headed apprentice at the garage, who becomes the father of twins he doesn't want to acknowledge or care for. But why is he acting that way? Then there's a shoe problem and scheming Violet Sephotho, Mma Makutsi's nemesis, running for government. Will it be possible to prevent her from winning? All these events take place with, in the background, the preparations for the long-awaited wedding of Mma Ramotswe's assistant, Mma Makutsi. Will it ever take place?

Each entry in this series reads like a sherbet in between spicier, meatier mysteries. You return more to visit the country and its people than for the plot, even if it is interesting. The characters are normal people grappling with everyday problems and basic human emotions. They can seem mundane and repetitive for some readers but the author makes it all appealing by incorporating in the stories the evolution and changes within this country, which cannot exist isolated from the rest of the world any more. You feel the clashes between the older generation and the eagerness of youth. Life no longer consists of stark opposites but adopts various shades of grey while retaining the basic human values that keeps this river of life flowing placidly as it does for most of us.

This is not a book for everyone but if you feel the need for a respite from the turmoil surrounding us at present, do give it a try.

Nicole Leclerc is a native Montrealer, avid reader, long time reviewer and moderator of the 4MA online discussion group.

Reviewed by Nicole Leclerc, July 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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