Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Genre Break - Blue Shoes and Happiness

Question: can I still call it "all debut fantasy, all the time" if I take a genre break now and then?

Thanks to my book-lending buddies, I am reading several mystery series. I am reading about an artificial-intelligence crime fighter, a 1930s British psychologist-detective, and a Motswana detective. I figured that I could make up for the fact that I didn't pay for this novel by writing a review.

A Motswana is a native of Botswana from, according to Wikipedia, "the Tswana ethnic group in southern Africa." Precious Ramotswe is a "traditionally built African lady" who runs the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency in Gaborone, Botswana. BLUE SHOES AND HAPPINESS is the seventh installment of this popular series by Alexander McCall Smith.

Mma Ramotswe--she never goes by her first name, always by the social title of "Mma"--is by now a well-known detective. She does not fight crime, and the most alarming foe she ever faced was no man, but a crocodile. She deals with small problems, which are not so small to the people who have the problem. In this installment, she takes on a corrupt advice columnist, a perceived curse, a cheating doctor, and a case of bribery. She also decides to go on a diet. She has always been proud of her traditionally built form, but lately, she is wondering if she is not a bit too traditionally built. In between cases, her assistant, the slender Mma Makutsi wonders if she has frightened off her fiance, and Mma Ramotswe's husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni--who never reveals the names behind his initials to anyone if he can help it, except his wife--buys a chair without consulting Mma Ramotswe. Oh, and they take on a cobra.

Words cannot express how charming this series is. Along the seven volumes, we follow Mma Ramotswe's life and adventures. She starts out single in the first few novels, but life didn't get dull once she got married. She thinks about her cases as she sips bush tea, and more often than not, she cannot expect any pay for her efforts. The cadence of the author's voice is like poetry.

True it's not a fantasy, but I mostly read fantasy in order to be carried away to cultures of the author's imagination. This novel certainly sweeps one away, to the neatly-swept yards of traditional Botswana houses. It's all the more charming because it is based on an actual culture. I devoured this novel over the weekend and I highly recommend the entire series.


Janet said...

That's the last thing I need: another addition to my reading list! But I added it anyway.

Anonymous said...

I spotted one of these in the bookstore the other day and was intrigued. It looked fun, and the culture is one we don't get to read about often. I haven't picked up any of the books yet, but I expect I will before long.

Tia Nevitt said...

Welcome Janet! The advantage to these novels is that they are very quick reads.

Raven, it is very fun and in my experience, unique. The formality of the culture makes one wistful for a bit of formality in ours.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

Yeah, it's your blog: you can get away with anything! :) I'm thinking of doing a classics week, with books that aren't typically called fantasy :D

The Book Swede

Tia Nevitt said...

I like that idea since I've read a lot of classics, myself. I'd read those posts.