Onyx reviews: The Saturday Big Tent Wedding
Party by Alexander McCall Smith
It can be difficult to review a new entry in a series like The No. 1 Ladies'
Detective Agency novels. Alexander McCall Smith's writing is so consistent and
solid that there isn't a weak book among the twelve that have been published so
far, counting The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party. By the
same token, there hasn't been one that is particularly stronger than the others,
Most of the pleasure of reading these books comes from revisiting old friends.
Readers will remember the first time Mma Grace Makutsi met Phuti Radiphuti while
taking dance classes and how their awkward courtship evolved, including the
tragic accident that befell Grace's fiancÚ. They will recall how Charlie and
Fanwell tend to get into trouble from time to time—usually something to do
with women—and they will remember how heartbroken Mma Ramotswe was when
she had to give up the tiny white van that once belonged to her father, the late
Sometimes the repetition of "well known facts," such
as Mma Makutsi's record score at secretarial school, can get a little tedious,
but this is perhaps the books' biggest flaw. Though nominally crime novels,
these are really slice-of-life stories involving the simple lives of simple
people living in Botswana. They celebrate life and love and dignity, and respect
the simpler ways of life. Even though Gaborone is far from a booming metropolis,
some people who live there are nostalgic for the days when people had more
consideration for each other and the old customs were honored.
have all grown to love each other, though they often have awkward ways of
expressing their emotions. Charlie may call Mma Makutsi a warthog out of
frustration, but he will eventually come to regret his actions. They all know
and put up with each others' faults and limitations. How they handle sometimes
difficult situations is the take-home message behind these stories.
that come to the detective agency generally involve infidelity or jealousy or
theft of some sort. The main case in The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party
involves a man complaining that someone is maiming his cattle, which is a big
deal in Botswana. People are defined by the size and quality of their herds. Mma
Ramotswe takes the case seriously but is dismayed to find out that her client is
not a very nice man. She's left with a dilemma when someone confides the
(probable) truth about the situation to her. She's obligated to close the case
but can she do so without causing more trouble? Her hypothetical mentor, Clovis Andersen,
author of The Principles of Private Detection, never covered situations
The other troubles are less serious in nature. Mma Makutsi is
getting ready for her wedding day, which has at long last been set. She needs a
new pair of shoes (she has a weird fetish whereby her shoes talk to her and
provide counsel) and Phuti has given her free reign to buy what she needs, but
something goes wrong, bringing to mind a misadventure with a mattress several
books back. She's not too busy with her impending nuptials, though, to take time
out to berate perennial apprentice Charlie when it seems like he's behaving
badly after discovering that his girlfriend is pregnant with twins.
finally, there's the tiny white van, which keeps showing up around Gaborone like
a ghost from Mma Ramotswe's past. The vehicle was in such bad shape that her
husband, expert mechanic J.L.B. Matakone, despaired of repairing it and had it
sold for scrap. Mma Ramotswe saw the wisdom behind this but she has mourned its
loss, despite being the proud owner of a brand new tiny blue van.
everyone from past books appears in the novel, including the domineering matron
of the orphanage, Mma
Potokwane, who isn't happy that she wasn't invited to the wedding. The two
children, Puso and Motheleli are of the "seen but not heard" variety,
rarely making a dent in the day to day lives of their foster parents. Mma
Makutsi's nemesis, Violet Sephotho, is there, too, as a budding politician and
perhaps that story will be told in the next installment.
Good deeds come back
on those who perform them, and Mma Ramotswe's patience with Charlie, and her
determination to get to the truth of the situation, pays huge dividends for her.
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