Many years ago, I raced through the first half-dozen Stephanie Plum books by Janet Evanovich before deciding that I never needed to read another one. “They’re all the same!” I thought. “She’s always going to destroy her car, and her love triangle with Morelli and Ranger will never be resolved!”
Somehow, though, I have persevered through all 20 of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels, despite the fact that they are just as similar to one another as Evanovich’s books are. However, for some reason, I still look forward to my annual visit to Botswana, perhaps because Mma Ramotswe, proprietor of the agency, is such wise and delightful company. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to read these books without wishing they could spend an afternoon in her presence, enjoying a leisurely chat while sipping bush tea.
To the Land of Long Lost Friends has a typically thin plot, but it does find Mma Ramotswe in a reflective mood, as she runs into an old friend at a wedding. For years, she had thought Calviniah Ramoroka was dead, but it turns out that the newspaper made a mistake—a different woman named Calviniah Ramoroka had been killed in an accident, but the photo printed alongside the article was of the still-living one.
At lunch a few days later, Calviniah happens to tell Mma Ramotswe that her adult daughter Nametso suddenly stopped speaking to her, and she has no idea why. Business is slow at the detective agency (as it often is—it’s kind of a wonder they manage to keep the doors open), so Mma Ramotswe decides to investigate. Meanwhile, Mma Makutsi is looking into the case of a man whose wife had believed he was cheating on her; the case had been closed (the ladies’ associate detective, Charlie, had determined that the husband had simply been visiting a female mathematics teacher for lessons), but Mma Makutski is convinced that something fishy is going on. “Most men are up to something, Mma. This is something I have learned as a woman. Most men are up to something—and it is the job of us women to find out what that is.”
There’s a little detecting, a lot of philosophizing and tea-drinking, and it’s all as relaxing as a cool breeze on a warm day; a subplot about a young orphan named Daisy does provoke genuine feelings of sadness in the reader, but even this heartbreaking storyline ultimately has a positive outcome.
“The world can be a place of suffering and conflict, but that’s not the only part of the world,” McCall Smith told the Deseret News in a recent interview. “There’s another part of the world where people are good to each other and kind to each other. The danger is that we become so accustomed to entertaining ourselves with violence that we think that’s reality. It’s not.” Whether your tastes run to female bounty hunters in New Jersey or lady detectives in Botswana, it’s nice that there are still some series out there that reliably provide a few hours of escape into a pleasantly familiar world.