Morality For Beautiful Girls by Alexander McCall Smith
In this third book of the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, Precious Ramotswe takes on a case involving a "Government Man" who suspects his brother is being poisoned, and while staying as a guest of this man's family leaves her assistant in charge of the office. In Mma Ramotswe's absence, the assistant is visited by an official of the Botswana Miss Beauty And Integrity contest who wants the character of the contestants checked to ensure the crown will not be worn by someone unworthy of it. Hoping to prove herself a capable detective, she decides to take the case and handle it by herself.
I enjoy these books. They are quiet stories about good people trying to do the right thing, always with a little humour thrown in. The only downside for me is that I keep stumbling over all the African names. Most of the characters aren't called by their first names so I'm constantly tripping over long last names in my head. I would love it if the publisher would include a page spelling out the pronunciations for us.
Part of what makes these books enjoyable is the look we get at the lives of ordinary people in Botswana. At least I think that's what we're seeing; I hope the cultural insight we're getting is authentic. The authour paints a quaint picture, with things like limiting the use of contractions to create the feel of reading in another language, and the emphasizing the appreciation of simple comforts: "They will be very happy running their businesses and drinking tea together.", but there are other times when the people seem a little too naive to be real. At one point Mma Ramotswe asks what DNA is; she has never heard of it. In another conversation she asks a man a few questions and from his answers, draws this conclusion: "This patently good man was obviously telling the truth. Her suspicion that he could be behind a plot to kill his son-in-law was an absurd conclusion to have reached...". I know she's never seen CSI (if she had she'd know what DNA is) but one conversation is not much evidence on which to base such strong judgement. I'd want his financials, phone records, a criminal records check and work and family histories. But then, I have seen CSI.
Regardless of logic, this innocent outlook is a big part of the charm of these books and I look forward to reading the rest of the series. I hope you'll try them too.