Book Quote:

“We were all at the mercy of chance, no matter how confident we felt, hostages to our own human frailty. And that applied not only to people, but to countries too. Things could go wrong and entire nations could be led into a world of living nightmare; it had happened, and was happening still. Poor Africa; it did not deserve the things that had been done to it. Africa, that could stand for love and happiness and joy, could also be a place of suffering and shame.”

Book Review:

Reviewed by Mary Whipple (MAY 27, 2009)

Not a believer that change is entirely for the better in Botswana society, Mma Precious Ramotswe, the “traditionally built” owner of the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency in Gaborone, has decided that cars are among the biggest agents of change, making people lazy. She has therefore decided to walk the two miles each way to her office, located beside the garage where her husband Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni operates a car repair service. She secretly admits, however, that the real reason she is walking is that her beloved little white van, now twenty-two years old, is making strange noises, and she fears that when Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni hears them that he will decide her little van can no longer be repaired.

Focusing on relationships and the patterns of politeness that make good communication flourish, the novel, though ostensibly a mystery, is filled with warm, homey touches—the giggling of Motholeli, Mma Ramotswe’s wheelchair-bound foster child, when she plays with her friends; Mma’s need to urge the children to do their homework; her foster son Puso’s love of football (like the passionate love for football among all her other male acquaintances); her protectiveness toward her husband; her need to make Mma Grace Makutsi, her assistant at the detective agency, a little more flexible about what she believes to be “the rules”; and her empathy toward Fanwell, a young apprentice who works for Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni and supports five other family members.

Her innate kindness toward others, and the belief that “there is plenty of work for love to do,” dominate all aspects of Mma Ramotswe’s life, because, she believes, “We [are] all at the mercy of chance… When we dismiss or deny the hopes of others…we forget that they, like us, have only one chance in this life.” Her husband, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, is just as thoughtful, donating one day every two weeks to help a needy friend keep abreast of the work that is piling up in his shop. As always he keeps the machinery at the local orphanage in working order, even when it is costly to himself.

More sentimental and less dependent upon plot than some of the earlier novels in this endearing series, Tea Time for the Traditionally Built intersperses local stories, gossip, and legends among several (sometimes thin) plot lines—Mma Ramotswe’s love for her little white van and her unhappiness about its possible future; a mysterious case of the Kalahari Swoopers, a great football team that is losing too many games, a particular worry for its owner, Mr. Molofololo; the fate of the romance between Mma Grace Makutsi and her fiancé, Mr. Phuti Radiphuti, after he hires Violet Sephotho to work in his furniture shop; and the case of a woman who is trying to live with two husbands.

Characters familiar to readers of earlier novels also make their appearances here. Charlie, the apprentice mechanic for Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, still does not like to work, if he can avoid it, but he plays a key role in resolving one of the plot lines. Glamorous Violet Sephotho, a poor student at the secretarial college where Grace Makutsi earned 97% on her final exam, lies about her exam scores to get a job with Phuti Radiphuti, intending to use her considerable charms to steal him away from his fiancée Grace. Mr. Polopetsi, a man saved from disaster in a previous novel, and who now works for Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, helps out at the detective agency and offers advice to Mma Ramotswe. And Mma Potokwane, who runs a large orphanage, drifts in and out of the action here, too, always in need of help.

“Cozy,” in the warmest sense of the word, the novel makes readers feel good about life, about principled women like Mma Ramotswe, about the pace of life which allows people to slow down or stop in order to be kind to others, and about the value of communication and good will in the solving of big problems. Whereas Mma Makutsi believes that “The trouble with this country [is] that there are too many people sitting down in other people’s chairs,” Mma Ramotswe believes that “if a chair is empty, then anybody should be welcome to sit in it…Maybe the real problem with the modern world,” she emphasizes, “[is] that not enough of us [are] prepared to share our chairs.”

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-5from 163 readers
PUBLISHER: Pantheon (April 21, 2009)
REVIEWER: Mary Whipple
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Alexander McCall Smith
EXTRAS: Excerpt
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Children’s Books:


  • The Criminal Law of Botswana
  • Changing People: The Law and Ethics of Behavior Modification (1994)
  • Health Resources and the Law (1994)
  • Forensic Aspects of Sleep (1997)

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May 27, 2009 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , , ,  · Posted in: Africa, Sleuths Series, World Lit

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