Di ’E ,' .VE- DRAMA

ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH The Full Cupboard of Life

l)-';..g';" 9809. 0000

The greatest, most gripping crime fiction has always, at heart, been about something other than a tangle of clues and suspects and an elaborate drawing-room denouement. Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, for all its justifiable claims to be the first detective story, provides a broad insight into the fears and hypocrisies of Victorian society, while the investigations of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe took place against the compelling backdrop of a brilliantly fictionalised Los Angeles.

In more recent times, Alexander McCall Smith‘s remarkable No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books and the sleuthing of heroine Precious Ramotswe have provided the perfect excuse for a wry, warm portrayal of Botswana’s people and her traditions. The fifth novel in the series opens in characteristically sleepy style, with Mma Ramotswe - still engaged to Mr JLB Matekoni, proprietor of Tlokweng Fload Speedy Motors, and guardian of two youngsters from the Orphan Farm - pouring bush tea for a wealthy client, and carefully pondering her latest professional conundrum. Mma Holonga, the owner of a successful chain of hair braiding salons, is in the market to get married, and has narrowed down her army of suitors


Smith creates another dreamy, didactic table

to a shortlist of four. To Mma Ramotswe‘s delight, her assignment is to track down these men and suss out their motives, honourable or otherwise - the ideal test for her wily intuition.

Of course, the proposed investigation proves to be something of a red herring in The Full Cupboard of Life's overall scheme. Among the many beautifully drawn subplots are Mr JLB Matekoni's dilemma over how to restore the esteem of his profession by confronting the cowboy mechanics at Speedy Motors, and Mma Ramotswe exploiting a young man‘s vanity in order to rescue her fiance from a charity parachute jump. Meanwhile, Assistant Detective Mma Makuti is about to collect the keys to her first two-roomed house. And then, of course, there is the niggling question of Mma Ramotswe's own seemingly interminable engagement . . .

As ever, there’s something of the dreamy, didactic fable about Alexander McCall Smith's tale. The author writes in prose so clear and spare that it is almost invisible with the effect of dropping the reader directly into the dusty heat of his setting. Then, taking the poignant individual anecdotal strands of his story, he unhurriedly teases out an irresistibly broad portrait of an enchanting country and a group of wholly believable characters still proudly embracing tried and tested traditions and coming out on top. (Allan Radcliffe)

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