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Onyx reviews: The Double Comfort Safari Club by Alexander McCall Smith

It seems an impossible task. Mma Ramotswe is contacted by an American lawyer executing the will of the recently deceased Mrs. Grant. Four years ago, while she was on a safari in Botswana's Okavango Delta, she was well treated by her guide, a good man in her estimation. She bequeathed the guide a considerable amount of money; however, no one knows his name or which safari camp Mrs. Grant visiited. Mma Ramotswe knows only that the camp was on the edge of a river and was named after a bird or an animal.

Mma Mataleke, another client of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, wants Mma Ramotswe to determine if her husband, a part-time minster, is having an affair and, if so, with whom. However, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni believes something else is going on with the Matalekes—he observed a strange encounter with a by-passer on a remote road after Mma Mataleke's car broke down.

Finally, a man complains to the detectives that he was conned into signing his house over to a woman who immediately dumped him and moved in all of her relatives. The perpetrator is familiar to the Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi: the loathsome Violet Sephotho, Mma Makutsi's long-time nemesis. In the past she sent poison pen letters to the agency and tried to steal Mma Makutsi's long-time fiancé, Phuti Radiphuti. She is Mma Makutsi's mirror image—unsuccessful at college, unhappy in life and desperate for financial security. Her failures have made her a bitter, spiteful woman. Her latest victim needs Mma Ramotswe's expertise to regain his life's savings, though the law seems to be against him. 

Within the agency, there are other matters to be addressed. At first, the biggest issue is which pots to use for the daily tea. Until now, the larger pot has been used by Mma Ramotswe for her red bush tea, but more people drink black tea so Mma Makutsi proposes a swap. It's a minor question, but changes to long-standing traditions must be handled sensitively. 

However, the question is put on the back burner after Phuti Radiphuti has a terrible accident. Mma Makutsi had been frustrated because her engagement showed no sign of leading to a wedding any time soon. When Phuti, proprietor of the Double Comfort Furniture Store, is struck by a truck and risks losing part of his leg. Mma Makutsi worries that her beloved will no longer want to get married. Complicating matters, his obstreperous aunt won't acknowledge Mma Makutsi's standing as fiancée and refuses to let her see Phuti, both at the hospital and after he is released.

After putting their other cases to rest, Mma Makutsi and Mma Ramotswe head north to the Okavango, traveling part of the way in Mma Ramotswe's little blue van (the replacement for her beloved little white van) and the rest of the way by boat on a river inhabited by dangerous hippopotamuses. 

The intricate network of connections that defines Botswana comes into play in tracking down the guide benefactor, but the detectives are almost derailed by an unfortunate coincidence. Mma Ramotswe's skills are pressed to the limit to sort out matters to everyone's satisfaction. That's one consistent feature of Alexander McCall Smith's books—in the end, everyone is satisfied.

This is the eleventh No. Ladies' Detective Agency novel, and is typical of the series. Though some might describe the books as mysteries, they are really character studies. Mma Ramotswe has a unique approach to the problems that land on her doorstep. She is direct, having learned that the best to way to get an answer is usually to ask the question. She does not rely on forensics or on tricking people into confessing their misdeeds. Her concept of what is right and what is wrong harkens back to what she calls the old Botswana morality.

For maximum enjoyment of these books, it is best not to ask certain questions, however. Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's foster children appear to be raising themselves and only come to the writer's attention when they can contribute to the plot. Otherwise they vanish from the story and from their foster parent's radar, which is a bit disconcerting. One wonders, too, whether everyone in Botswana has the same verbal tick of repeating what they've just said for emphasis.

These are minor complaints, though, for the pure pleasure of spending time in this exotic locale with characters who see the good side of everything and constantly strive to do better. 

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