44 Scotland Street, and now, Tears of the Giraffe. This one was by far my favorite, and I think I might finally be coming to see why so many of Mike's siblings, cousins, aunts, and uncles love Alexander McCall Smith so much.
It wasn't that I didn't like The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency or 44 Scotland Street; there were certainly exceptional moments in the plot where I thought, What a brilliant turn of events or What a clever thing to say. But . . . there were also moments of boredom, and, don't hate me for saying this, I didn't feel particularly attached to any of the characters.
But something changed with this one. I don't know if it was because the characters and the setting were already familiar (this is the second book in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series), so I could just jump right into the story or if I actually enjoyed the plot and pacing more. Whatever it was, in this case the third time really did prove to be the charm.
When the story begins, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni and Mma Ramotswe are blissfully planning their new future together when things immediately begin to get complicated: Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's maid is far from happy when she learns that her services will no longer be needed, and she begins to seek her revenge on Mma Ramotswe; then Mma Potokwane takes advantage of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's kind heart and convinces him to adopt two orphans, which he does without even talking to Mma Ramotswe about it first. Meanwhile at the detective agency, Mma Ramotswe gives Mma Makutsi a promotion, and Mma Makutsi solves her very first case. And interwoven between all these daily happenings is an unresolved mystery about an American young man who went missing ten years before.
It's been four years since I read the first book in the series, and I honestly think it took me this long to return simply because I wasn't completely invested in the characters. However, I liked it well enough (and had heard the positive reviews of so many people) to keep it hovering at the back of the brain, nudging me to try the next one.
And what I found on this second run was this: Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is a silent hero--quiet and noble and just so, so, so kindhearted (and can anyone tell me why he is know as Mr. instead of Rra?); Mma Ramotswe is a defender of truth--she has a fiery personality and says it like she sees it; Mma Makutsi is a loyal friend and employee--she takes pride in her work and is confident in her abilities; Mma Potokwane is bold in her faith--she believes in humanity and God, especially when they go hand in hand. In other words, I've made that unbreakable connection with the characters, and I have a vested interest in their futures.
This book explores the moral dilemma of lying. Towards the end of the story, Mma Ramotswe interviews a man and threatens to reveal some personal information about him if he doesn't give her the answer she desires. After the incident, she makes this reflection: "As for her own conscience, she had lied to him and resorted to
blackmail. She had done so in order to obtain information, which she
otherwise wouldn't have got. But again, that troubling issue of means
and ends raised its head. Was it right to do the wrong thing to get the
right result?" And she makes this conclusion, "Yes, it must be. . . It was regrettable, but necessary, in
a world that was far from perfect."
Mike listened to this book as well, and we enjoyed discussing it. He remembers the names of the characters much better than I do and and loves the way the pronunciations just roll off his tongue. The audio is narrated by Lisette Lecat. Mike thinks she is fabulous. I wasn't willing to give her my praise as quickly, but in the end, I really liked her as well.
As a side note, I told Mike that, while I'm not longing to live in Africa, I wish we lived in a culture where we were expected to hire a maid. When Mike's parents lived in Chile, there was a similar expectation, and I just think it's a great way to support the economy (and, I'll be honest, I would love to have a day every week where I was guaranteed to have a clean house).
For those of you who have read something by Alexander McCall Smith, how do you feel about his books/writing? Did it take you several tries before you were a devoted fan, or was it love at first sight?