In the Company of Cheerful Ladies begins with Mma Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s first female private detective, sitting on the open verandah of her favorite café, drinking tea, enjoying her Saturday afternoon. She is thinking about commonplace events which have happened during the week and finding the connections between them and the state of the world. That morning, for example, she had seen a woman who was trying to park her car scrape another car. The woman quickly checked the damage and drove off. Mma Ramotswe knows that behavior such as this is not honest. She reflects that such incidents were less likely to occur in the days when she was growing up in a village and everyone knew one another. Now her beloved African country of Botswana is becoming urbanized, the population is increasing, and people often seem indifferent or uncaring toward others. Still, she thinks, if some things are worse, some other things are better. It is no good just shrugging in despair. One must do what one can.
In the midst of such reflections, Mma Ramotswe (as she is always referred to in the novel) is tested. She witnesses a woman stealing a bangle from a nearby market stall. She tells herself she must not allow this crime. She walks firmly toward the stall to intercept the woman. However, the waitress from the café bounds after Mma Ramotswe and accuses her of trying to leave without paying her bill. The thief walks away.
The waitress does not accept Mma Ramotswe’s explanation and not only demands the money for the bill but also says that she will add more money for herself or else she will call the police. When the waitress has gone, a woman at a nearby table leans across and quietly tells Mma Ramotswe that she would have better luck running away from a café at a hotel. Despite these clear examples of how things have changed since her village days, Mma Romotswe retains her philosophical position. To make the world a better place, she believes, one needs to have enough imagination to sympathize with others, to know what it is like to be them and thus not do something which would cause them pain.
Throughout the novel, it is this sympathetic and encouraging outlook on life that informs Mma Romotswe’s actions as she encounters problems, whether they are connected with the business she founded, the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, or with family and friends, or even with difficult “non-friends.” This attitude is also, presumably, one of the main reasons hundreds of thousands of readers were entranced with the first book in the series, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (1998), and have continued to follow Mma Ramotswe’s adventures. Author Alexander McCall Smith has said that he did not think of the first book as the beginning of a series, but he became so fond of Mma Ramotswe that he did not want to let her go. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency received two Booker Judge’s Special Recommendations and was selected for numerous book club groups, such as the Today Show Club. McCall Smith was named 2004 author of the year in the British Book Awards. The series is widely available internationally, and it continues to be enthusiastically received.
Although McCall Smith has published more than fifty works on a variety of topics, including children’s books and many novels, this series marked his first venture into mystery writing. McCall Smith has said in interviews that he does not think of these novels as mysteries but as novels about a woman who happens to be a private detective. In the Company of Cheerful Ladies includes only one case that Mma Ramotswe’s agency is paid to investigate, which is to find the location of a suspected criminal. That case is worked largely through a few letters and telephone calls. There are no violent murders, no wild shootouts, no organized crime or political corruption. The “mysteries” that make up most of the story are more problems of daily life.
The various problems that appear can be listed as questions needing answers. Who was hiding in Mma Ramotswe’s house and ran away without his trousers? Who left a beautiful big pumpkin as a present? Why does Charlie,...
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