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Book Nook - 13-11-2017

Monday, November 13, 2017
By Deepa Gahlot

There are Lit Fests taking place all over the country, but the community of readers is dwindling. Still, passionate book lovers would like to know what others like themselves are reading. This Book Nook suggests some books, but would also like to connect with serious readers, or even casual airport book browsers. Do write in about books you have loved or hated and why. The best entries will be shared on this page. Please send your recommendations to

Precious Forever
The House Of Unexpected Sisters is the 18th book in Alexander McCall Smith’s bestselling No 1 Ladies Detective series and comes just a few months after Precious And Grace.

These books, set in Botswana and featuring the “traditionally built” Precious Ramotswe, the country’s first female private detective, with her colleagues, family and friends, are simple and warm-hearted. The writer makes Botswana sound like heaven on earth, and the African country must have been added to every fan’s must-visit list.

Over the year, the books, set in the capital city of Gaborone, have covered the setting up of the Agency, Precious’s marriage to the very gentle Mr JLB Matekoni (garage owner and expert mechanic), her adoption of two kids, her friendship with Mma Potokwane, who runs an orphanage and makes divine fruit cake. Then there’s Grace Makutsi, who started as a secretary, leaving her poverty-stricken past behind, married the rich furniture shop owner, Phuti Radiphuti, gave birth to a son, and kept promoting herself to partner, associate and in this book, Principal Investigating Officer. And, in most books, the vamp is the pretty, ambitious and ruthless Violet Sephotho, the bane of Grace’s existence since her secretarial college days (where Grace got an unmatched ninety-seven percent).

There are crimes committed in these books, but nothing ghastly enough to give the reader sleepless nights; as much as solving the cases that come to the Agency, the books are about family, loyalty, friendship and nostalgia for the old days when people were kind and gracious.  (In an earlier book, Mr LJB Matekoni had to regretfully sack Charlie, one of his apprentices, because of financial constraints; on seeing his distress, Precious hired him to help at the Agency--much to Grace’s annoyance-- even though she did not need, and could not afford another assistant.)

In The House Of Unexpected Sisters, Precious’s friend and voluntary assistant, the mild-mannered Mr Polopetsi, asks for help—gratis-- for Charity Mompoloki, who was fired from her job at an office supplies store, for alleged rudeness to a customer. Charity is a widow with children, and Precious’s heart melts at the unfairness of the situation.

While the ladies and Mr Polopetsi set about investigating, Precious learns that her abusive ex-husband the trumpet player Note Mokoti, has returned to Gaborone, which causes her some discomfort. She also discovers another Ramotswe she has never heard of, and this leads her to question the character of her dead father Obed, whom she idolizes.

In a peaceful scene, having tea with his wife, Mr JLB Matekoni says: “It would be good to talk to you all day. To talk to you that is – not to other people. Talking to you Mma, is very… very restful, I think.”

Reading No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is books is also restful…and pleasing.

The House Of Unexpected Sisters
By Alexander McCall Smith
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 240


Excerpt of The House Of Unexpected Sisters
Mma Ramotswe, owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, had strong views on the things that she owned. Personal possessions, she thought, should be simple, well made and not too expensive. Mma Ramotswe was generous in all those circumstances where generosity was required—but she was never keen to pay one hundred pula for something that could be obtained elsewhere for eighty pula, or to get rid of any item that, although getting on a bit, still served its purpose well enough. And that, she thought, was the most important consideration of all—whether something worked. A possession did not have to be fashionable; it did not have to be the very latest thing; what mattered was that it did what it was supposed to do, and did this in the way expected of it. In that respect, there was not much difference between things and people: what she looked for in people was the quality of doing what they were meant to do, and doing it without too much fuss, noise or complaint.
She also felt that if something was doing its job then you should hold on to it and cherish it, rather than discarding it in favour of something new. Her white van, for instance, was now rather old and inclined to rattle, but it never failed to start—except after a rain storm, which was rare enough in a dry country like Botswana—and it got her from place to place— except when she ran out of fuel, or when it broke down, which it did from time to time, but not too often.

She applied the same philosophy to her shoes and clothing. It was true that she was always trying to persuade her husband, Mr J. L. B. Matekoni, to get rid of his old shirts and jackets, but that was because he, like all men, or certainly the majority of men, tended to hold on to his clothes for far too long. His shoes were an example of that failing: he usually extracted at least four years’ service out of his oil-stained working boots, his veldschoen. He recognised her distaste for these shoes by removing them when he came back from the garage each evening, but he was adamant that any other footwear, including the new waterproof oil-resistant work boots he had seen featured in a mail order catalogue, would be a pointless extravagance.

‘There is no point in having fancy boots if you’re a mechanic,’ he said. ‘What you need is boots that you know will always be there.’

‘But new boots would also always be there,’ she pointed out. ‘It’s not as if they would march off by themselves.’

Mr J. L. B. Matekoni laughed. ‘Oh, I don’t think shoes would be that disobedient,’ he said. ‘What I mean is that you want shoes that you know – that you trust. I have always liked those boots. They are the ones I’ve always worn. I know my way around them.’

Mma Ramotswe looked puzzled. ‘But surely there’s not much to know about shoes,’ she argued. ‘All you have to know is which way round they go. You wouldn’t want to put them on back to front, nor put the left shoe on the right foot. But is there much to know beyond that?’

The conversation went nowhere, as it always did when this subject was raised, and Mma Ramotswe had come to accept that men’s clothing was a lost cause. There might be a small number of men who were conscious of their apparel and did not hold on to old shoes and clothes for too long, but if there were, then she certainly was not married to one of them. Her own clothes were a quite different matter, of course. She did not spend an excessive amount on dresses, or on shoes for that matter, but she believed in quality and would never buy cheap clothes for the sake of saving a few pula. What she wanted from her clothes was the ability to stand up to the normal demands of the working day, easy laundering, and, if at all possible, light ironing qualities. If clothes had that, then it did not matter if they were not of the latest style or were of a colour that had ceased to be fashionable. If Mma Ramotswe was comfortable in them, and if they responded to the structural challenges posed by the traditionally built figure, then she embraced them enthusiastically, and they, in their way, reciprocated—particularly with those parts of her figure that needed support.

Given this attitude to the functionality of clothes, it was no surprise that she and her erstwhile assistant, now her co-director, Mma Grace Makutsi, wife of Mr Phuti Radiphuti of the Double Comfort Furniture Store, should not see eye to eye on fashion matters. When she had first started at the agency, Mma Makutsi had not been in a position to spend much money on clothing. In fact, she could spend no money on clothes, for the simple reason that she had none.

What savings Mma Makutsi and her family had were committed almost entirely to the fees she had to pay the Botswana Secretarial College, leaving very little for anything else. Then, when she was given the job at the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, Mma Ramotswe had been unable to pay her much of a salary, as the truth of the matter was that the agency’s minuscule profits did not really justify the employment of any staff.

But Mma Makutsi had talked herself into the job and had been prepared to accept the tiny salary on the grounds that in the fullness of time things would surely look up. They did, and when she found she had a bit of money in her pocket—although not all that much—she spent at least some of it on replacements for her two increasingly worn dresses. She also splashed out on some new shoes—a handsome pair of court shoes with green leather on the outside and blue lining within. She had never seen anything more beautiful than that pair of shoes, and they had imparted a spring to her step that Mma Ramotswe, and all others dealing with Mma Makutsi, had noticed, even if they did not know to attribute it to new footwear.

Following her marriage to Phuti Radiphuti, Mma Makutsi’s wardrobe expanded. Phuti was well off, and although he did not believe in flaunting wealth, he was strongly of the view that the wife of a man of his standing, with his herd of over six hundred cattle, should be dressed in a way that was commensurate with her station in life.
Mma Ramotswe had helped Mma Makutsi on that first big spending spree, when they had gone to the Riverwalk shops and purchased a dozen dresses, several petticoats, a rail of blouses and, of course, several pairs of new shoes.


Daniel Cole’s Ragdoll is a fast-paced and well-written thriller, but not for the faint of heart, so gruesome is the violence. According to the synopsis, “ A body is discovered with the dismembered parts of six victims stitched together, nicknamed by the press as the 'Ragdoll'. Assigned to the shocking case are Detective William 'Wolf' Fawkes, recently reinstated to the London Met, and his former partner Detective Emily Baxter.

"The 'Ragdoll Killer' taunts the police by releasing a list of names to the media, and the dates on which he intends to murder them. With six people to save, can Fawkes and Baxter catch a killer when the world is watching their every move?”

By Daniel Cole
Publisher: Hachette
Pages: 390

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