Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith
Blue Shoes and Happiness is the seventh installment of Alexander McCall Smith's successful No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Not typical mysteries, the books meander gracefully to their conclusion rather than proceeding with page-turning thrills. As Assistant Detective Grace Makutsi says, "Mma Ramotswe [proprietor of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency] does not solve crimes. She deals with very small things. [...] But [...] these small things are important for people" (53).
Set in Botswana, the books are full of full of wisdom and humanity as well as sympathetic and subtly drawn characters. Smith writes in such a way to emphasize the different pace of life in Botswana. Just reading one of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency books forces the reader to slow done and relax, making them the perfect fare for a weekday evening.
In Blue Shoes and Happiness, Precious Ramotswe and her detective agency take on a number of new cases; her new assistant-assistant detective gets a chance to prove his detecting skills; and a new character appears in the form of Aunty Emang, the local newspaper's agony aunt. Additionally, Grace Makutsi's relationship with her new fiance is on rocky ground after she admits to being a feminist. The novel's most shocking thread, however, concerns Precious Ramotswe's decision to go on a diet. Yes, there's blackmail, and a home intruder, and a cobra in the office, but none of these things is nearly as significant as Ramotswe, a champion of the rights of the "traditionally-built," deciding that she needs to lose weight.
While the books do stand alone--each begins with a little summary of what has happened in the previous books--people new to the series should probably start with a different book. Blue Shoes and Happiness, while continuing in the same vein as the earlier books, may be slightly less accessible to neophytes. Readers familiar with Ramotswe and the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency novels will appreciate the mysterious pumpkin that threads its way through the book and Smith's exploration of gender issues. To others, these things may feel just a bit too foreign.
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