In a discussion about mystery fiction at the library, a couple of my colleagues agreed that they like their mysteries gritty and tension-filled. One person said having a murder take place before the story opens and then be investigated and revealed is not enough for him. There need to be multiple murders, the criminal needs to be dangerous and on the loose, the violence needs to be on stage, and the sleuth needs to be a target. No cosy mysteries for him. I, on the other hand, like my mysteries a bit lighter. No one has to die. My favorite series is set in Botswana, where there is lots of sunshine and traditional civility is still valued. The sleuth is Mma Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, a woman who excels at finding mercy and forgiveness as well as justice.
I have just read The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party and now am up to date with the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. This twelfth book is classic, as Mma Ramotswe and her associates take on a very serious case concerning the killing of cattle (the most important symbol of wealth in her country). Mma also becomes interest in a paternity case and seeks to find the ghost of a white van. As always, solving the mystery is just the first step to resolving a case. She wants no innocents to be hurt in the administration of justice. Like Poirot before her, Mma will settle for reforming the guilty if it seems better than filing charges and requiring arrests.
There is much to like about all the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books. I enjoy the Third World setting, the well-defined characters, and the unpredictable twists in the stories. Readers can feel the love that McCall Smith has for Botswana. Remarkably, my library still have readers just discovering the series, as well as many faithful readers. We'll have a big McCall Smith shelf for a long time.
McCall Smith, Alexander. The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party. Pantheon, 2011. ISBN 9780307378392.