Alexander McCall Smith’s sixth installment in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, has a wonderfully intimate feel. Each of the mysteries covered in this book is very personal to the characters that series fans have already come to know and love. The book starts with Mma Ramotswe attempting to foil a theft in the bizarre. Then there’s the mystery of the intruder in her house on Zebra Drive. And the question of the perfect pumpkin left on her porch. Most importantly, there’s the strange goings-on at Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s former residence – and the chance that they may have something to do with ladies’ man apprentice Charlie. As with all of the books in this series, the mysteries themselves are secondary to the human interactions and observations that lead to their resolutions.
Since the first book was published in 1998, McCall Smith has had plenty of time to develop the main characters, and their increasing complexity is indeed part of the charm of the book. We see Precious Ramotswe’s lingering self-doubt for the first time in the series. And we experience Grace Makutsi’s loneliness – after all, even if you can be justifiably proud of your astounding 97% result on the final examinations at the Botswana Secretarial College, you can’t cuddle up with it at night.
But McCall Smith isn’t letting things get dull in Gabarone. This book introduces two important male characters: Phuti Radiphuti, Mma Makutsi’s kind but clumsy dancing partner, and Mr. Polopetsi, a very honest man who paid a terrible price for someone else’s mistake, and is now trying to find work in an unforgiving city. As ever, I love the compassion with which McCall Smith treats his characters.
One of the reasons I chose this for what I knew would be a long car ride was because it was read, like the other books in this series, by South African narrator Lisette Lecat. Her beautifully accented reading evokes warm sunshine, African bush tea, and the slow but changing rhythm of life near the Kalahari Desert– probably because she grew up not far from Botswana. She is Precious Ramotswe to me. And Grace Makutsi. And Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. I can easily listen to her for hours, forgetting (or at least trying to forget) the demolition derby driving on the Capitol Beltway. Lecat’s range is outstanding. Each of the voices she creates is so distinctive that I no longer need the text to tell me who’s speaking. And unlike other readers’, I haven’t found any of her characterizations off-putting, even those of the minor or transitory ones.
These audiobooks have wide appeal, and because the themes are very traditional, and morality and culture are discussed often, they make a great choice for family listening. My husband and at least one daughter enjoy them as much as I do. Highly recommended for lovers of mysteries, lovers of fiction set in other countries, and people who love smart, compassionate, female protagonists.
This book wasn’t for any of my challenges, but I will be linking this review to Audiobook Jukebox, a great place to find audiobook reviews and recommendations. June was Audiobook Month, so I really wanted to get something linked over there before the end of the month!