A deceptively slow opening movement ushers in one of the most complicated dockets ever for the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.
“Life,” thinks Mma Precious Ramotswe, is “more or less perfect.” But only a few hours after this contented reflection, Mr. Polopetsi, the part-time chemistry teacher who volunteers his services at the agency, presents her with an unexpectedly vexing problem. Charity Mompoloki, the sister of a fellow teacher, has been fired from her job on the sales floor of The Office Place for speaking rudely to a customer—something she tearfully assures Mma Ramotswe she didn’t do, a statement Mma Grace Makutsi, the agency’s co-director and a fellow alumna of the Botswana Secretarial College, is prepared to defend to the death. If Charity wasn’t rude, then why did her boss, Mr. Gopolang, show her the door? Looking for answers, Mma Ramotswe (Precious and Grace, 2016, etc.) visits Charity’s mother, Mma Lentswe, in Mochudi, her own hometown, and inadvertently makes a discovery that seriously threatens to derail her from the increasingly puzzling case she’s agreed to investigate, a discovery that will lead to still further developments, some of them wonderful, some shattering. Meanwhile, word comes that Note Mokoti, Mma Ramotswe’s abusive first husband, has been spotted at the local branch of the Standard Bank. The traditionally built detective, normally a rock of strength and sanity, might well be overwhelmed by all this intrigue if her creator didn’t trot out perennial bad girl Violet Sephotho for one more round of villainy, provoking Mma Ramotswe’s unsurprising reaction: “Well, she does get around, doesn’t she?”
Though the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency increasingly feels more like a therapy group than a commercial enterprise, there’s no denying the slow-burning power of its revelations in this 18th installment.