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Blue Shoes and Happiness

Blue Shoes and Happiness

Author:Alexander McCall Smith
Release Date:2006
Publisher:Pantheon Books

By Nicole Leistikow | Posted 5/10/2006

Blue Shoes and Happiness, Alexander McCall Smith’s seventh novel in the best-selling series about a lady detective in Botswana, is as delightful as his first. Smith’s winning formula is a winning heroine: Mma Ramotswe, a “traditionally-built” matron with a fondness for cake and bush tea, who solves minor mysteries while philosophizing about the human heart.

Unlike most gumshoes, Mma Ramotswe rarely comes across a who-done-it that remains unsolved for long. Smith’s plots abandon any pretense of Agatha Christie intricacies. Instead, the author lovingly explores the follies and frailties of ordinary but interesting characters—a cook who fattens her husband on the side, an advice columnist who takes advantage of her position, a secretary who fears she is too feminist to get a man—in a Botswana that wrestles with the tensions between tradition and modernization.

Turning convention on its head, Smith’s detective often confronts wrongdoers directly, going against the advice of her manual “The Principles of Private Detection.” Contrary to her peers in the genre, in Mma Ramotswe’s view, the best way of getting an answer to any question was to ask somebody face-to-face. Experience had shown her that if one suspected that there was a secret, the best thing to do was to find out who knew the secret and then ask that person to tell you. It nearly always worked.

Be advised, however, that we are not all imbued with Mma Ramotswe’s wisdom and secret-searching charm. Her appeal resides in a regard for what she calls “the old Botswana morality,” a respect for her country’s genteel habits and a humaneness that gives Mma Ramotswe an understanding of those who do wrong, even as she puts the kibosh on their schemes. Spending time with the lady detective and absorbing her psychological insights provides an unexpected anecdote to the unsatisfying with-us-or-against-us dichotomies that plague our times. For example, Mma Ramotswe muses about blackmailers:

    ...the victim is often a wrongdoer, but, once blackmailed attracts our sympathy. But why should we feel sorry for somebody who is simply being made to pay for the wrong that he did? It occurred to Mma Ramotswe that this was a problem that deserved serious consideration.

Such quandaries are indeed worth pausing over. Passing judgment without being judgmental, Mma Ramotswe is a rare and righteous philosopher.

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