Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith (10th novel in ‘The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency’)

This is the tenth novel in ‘The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency’ series and it stays true to form. You couldn’t read this novel on its own to enjoy it completely unfortunately. You’d have to be pretty invested in the series (like I am) to appreciate the little in-jokes and the throwbacks to previous cases.

In this novel, Mma Ramotswe is called upon to find the traitor in the local football team and Mma Makutsi does battle with her long-time rival, Violet Sephotho over her fiancé, Phut Radiphuti. As you can see the crimes that Mma Ramotswe solves deal with everyday grievances; there are no drug syndicates or elaborate murder plots. Often Mma Ramotswe acts like an Agony Aunt, not only solving the case but providing a moral guidance on how the problem should be addressed. And like any good Golden Age crime novel, the world is set right again after the detective rights the wrongs.

I’m not sure how I feel about the rather traditional gender roles which were discussed more prominently in this novel but there’s no denying that they fit in with the setting. Violet Sephotho appears to be classified as a Bad Girl not only for husband stealing but for the sin of being overly glamorous which is a little dated, if admittedly fair for the overall tone of the series. Nevertheless, Alexander doesn’t subscribe to the overly macho male stereotypes that can come with being too traditional, so I assume that his overall viewpoint is about living simplistically and honestly.

This can lead to the novel feeling sticky sweet and very black-and-white but there’s a very dry wit on human behaviour and personality that runs throughout the novel that helps to add a bit of edge. I’ve been trying to find an example but the commentary is so sly that I found it pretty difficult to pinpoint the where Alexander inserts his caustic remarks.

I enjoyed the book, and it was especially relaxing reading it on the train when I had a few stressful days at work. There’s not much to write about on this novel. For me, the beauty of this series is that each book builds a picture of Mma Ramotswe’s life and her observations on her community and this addition upholds this.

On another note

Alexander writes beautiful prose:

We were tiny creatures, really; tiny and afraid, trying to hold our place on the little platform that was our earth. So while the world around us might seem so solid, so permanent, it was not really. 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. But that suffering was not the only story, thought Mma Ramotswe. There was a story of courage and determination and goodness that could be told as well, and she was proud that her country, her Botswana, had been part of it.

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