Tuesday, October 7, 2014

The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon by Alexander McCall Smith

5 Star

Precious Ramotswe has taken on two puzzling cases. First she is approached by the lawyer Mma Sheba, who is the executor of a deceased farmer’s estate. Mma Sheba has a feeling that the young man who has stepped forward may be falsely impersonating the farmer’s nephew in order to claim his inheritance. Mma Ramotswe agrees to visit the farm and find out what she can about the self-professed nephew. Then the proprietor of the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon comes to Mma Ramotswe for advice. The opening of her new salon has been shadowed by misfortune. Not only has she received a bad omen in the mail, but rumors are swirling that the salon is using dangerous products that burn people’s skin. Could someone be trying to put the salon out of business? 

Meanwhile, at the office, Mma Ramotswe has noticed something different about Grace Makutsi lately. Though Mma Makutsi has mentioned nothing, it has become clear that she is pregnant . . . But in Botswana—a land where family has always been held above all else—this may be cause for controversy as well as celebration.

Rebecca - 5 Star

The email from Novel Escapes headquarters read something along the lines of would I be ‘interested’ in reviewing the latest instalment in The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series? Interested doesn’t cover it; I fell in love with Mma Ramotswe’s adventures ten years ago and some of these books have remained right at the top my favourite reads list since then. But this is the first time I’ve reviewed one of the books, and whereas usually I would open an Alexander McCall Smith book with unfettered excitement, on this occasion I was a little worried; not only is it a task I feel wholly unqualified to do, but also could I be objective? And what would I say if this, the fourteenth book of the series wasn’t any good?

Thankfully it’s a corker. For those of you haven’t read any of these books I would strongly urge you to try them. Alexander McCall Smith has legions of fans the world over and the early novels have been adapted for radio, stage and television. They are easy to read without being simple, charming without sentimentality and most notably they are uplifting: set in Botswana revelling in it’s beauty whilst not ignoring the poverty and problems the country faces.  However the key to the books’ success lies in the heroine: Precious is a most unlikely leading lady, being of a ‘traditional’ build (i.e. she’s fat) and she uses her wits, intelligence and humanity to solve mysteries rather sex appeal which seems to me to be the usual m.o. for other female detectives. The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon has all the ingredients from the previous books: intriguing problems, humour and an exotic setting (I’m keen to know how much of a boost these books have given Botswana’s tourist industry) and of course we learn more about what life has in store for the various characters. I must confess that I have found some of the later books in the series, although enjoyable a little repetitive at times.  But I feel this book has a more philosophical air about it; the theme of friendship is beautifully and touchingly explored and has reinvigorated the series, leaving me in no doubt as to there being many more books worth of mileage yet to come.

Would I go so far as to recommend this book to those unfamiliar with the series? Probably not. I think you should buy the first in the series (called The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency), and then you could skip to this one comfortably knowing who everyone is. If you’ve previously read some books but haven’t read one for a while, this is the one to get you back on the wagon; immersing yourself in Mma Ramotswe’s world for a while makes everything glow that bit brighter.

Thank you to Random House for our review copy. All opinions are our own.

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