Sunday 11 December 2016

Review: Tea Time For The Traditionally Built and The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith

(Little Brown £7.99) and (Little Brown, £12.99)

Published 27/02/2010 | 05:00

This month sees the publication of two new novels by Alexander McCall Smith, Tea Time For The Traditionally Built and The Double Comfort Safari Club, the 10th and 11th instalments in the phenomenally successful No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, which features the Botswanan detective Precious Ramotswe.

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As well as these novels, this month also sees the publication of a book of recipes, Mma Ramotswe's Cookbook and Precious and the Puggies, a Scots-language book telling the story of Mma Ramotswe's very first case. To say McCall Smith is prolific is a gross understatement, but when you take into account the fact that he has four different fiction series on the go and writes a daily fiction instalment for The Scotsman, his output takes on a prodigious glow.

But if McCall Smith is prolific, he is only responding to demand, especially when it comes to his detective, Precious Ramotswe.

The series has been translated into 44 languages and sold 20 million copies around the world. There is even a No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency tour in Botswana.

It's easy to see why. These stories are a balm for readers, soothing lullabies for adults who battle through the modern world of overflowing email inboxes, bleating phones, long working hours and ever-increasing demands.

Smith's world is one of tea and scones, of even-paced days where there is always time to do the crossword in the morning and most problems can be worked out over a cup of redbush tea.

Precious is an intelligent, sensible woman of "traditional build" and Smith's regular cast of characters -- the loveable Precious, her kind husband JLB Matekoni, and her ambitious and earnest assistant Grace Makutsi -- are all present and correct in these two latest instalments.

In Tea Time For The Traditionally Built, Precious takes on the case of the Kalahari Swoopers football team who are mysteriously losing games, while she tries to save her loyal little white van without letting her husband know.

Meanwhile, Grace suspects her old secretarial school rival is out to steal her fiance, the furniture-shop owner Phuti Radiphuti.

In The Double Comfort Safari Club, Mma Ramotswe and Makutsi travel to a safari lodge to investigate, and the story is set against the backdrop of Grace's relationship problems and Precious's leavening wisdom. Both books are exactly what we've come to expect from McCall Smith's sleuth and he is clever enough to know not to tinker too much with something that works so well.

While the stories may be simple, McCall Smith's humour is arch and clever but always warm, and it is this gentle kindness that gives these books their charm. At this stage they are practically interchangable, but fans will find in these two books new stories worth puzzling over along with new emotional dilemmas and pearls of wisdom from Precious.

McCall Smith is now 62 and these books represent the last ones that he was contracted to write, after which he has said he will "sit down and think about it all". Let's hope he won't think about it for too long as McCall Smith's novels are enjoyable successors to the waning ordinary person as detective tradition that includes the likes of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple.

Alexander McCall Smith will give a reading today at 2.30pm in the Pavilion Theatre, Dun Laoghaire, Co Dublin. Tickets are priced €8.

Irish Independent

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