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Book Nook - 21-05-2019

Tuesday, May 21, 2019
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 adc.booknook@gmail.com

All’s Well In Botswana
It’s been twenty years and nineteen books—neither Alexander McCall Smith’s Botswana, nor his “traditionally built” heroine, Precious Ramotswe, have changed much.

In the latest No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, The Colors of All the Cattle, Precious and her partner, Grace Makutsi are hard at work as usual, keeping criminals in check in the gentle capital of Gaborane, which remains in an era when computers and cell phones have not yet reached. Instead of Googling for information, the Ladies and their on-off assistants, young Charlie and old Mr Polopetsi, drive around the city and beyond looking for clues. Precious still works out of her husband Mr. J.L.B.
Matekoni, garage, called Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, keeps her mind sharp drinking red bush tea and runs up once more against the ubiquitous femme fatale Violet Sephotho.

The minor crimes and leisurely pace of Smith’s books in this series are what appeal to fans. In this one, Dr. Marang, an old acquaintance turns up from her village of Mochudi, and wants her to help trace the driver who knocked him down, injured him badly and fled. He does not know the make or number of the car, only that it was blue.

Meanwhile, Precious’s best friend, the formidable Sylvia Potokwane, who runs an orphanage and bakes delicious cakes, insists that the detective stand for council elections, and prevent the construction of the Big Fun Hotel, next to the local cemetery, where even the dead won’t be able to rest in peace.

The feckless Charlie woes Queenie Queenie, ignorant of the fact that she is the daughter of a wealthy man, and sister of the muscular wrestler Hercules, who is notorious for breaking the bones of his sister’s suitors. Worse, Grace Makutsi has her first quarrel with her placid husband Phuti Radiphuti.

Precious Ramotswe may go all out to fight for justice, but is otherwise so peaceable and modest that she thinks it is somehow wrong to vote for oneself!  It is no spoiler for the regular reader, that Violet Sephotho never has a chance when up against the two Lady Detectives.  A quick, satisfying read.

The Colours Of All The Cattle
By Alexander McCall Smith
Publisher: Pantheon
Pages: 240

 

Excerpt of The Colours Of All The Cattle
Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and one of the finest mechanics in Botswana, if not the finest, was proud of his wife, Precious Ramotswe, progenitor and owner of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Many men are proud of their wives in one way or another, although not all of them are as vocal in their pride as their wives might like them to be. This is a failing of men, and must be added to the list of men's failings, although all of us have failings and weaknesses — men and women alike — and it is not always helpful to point them out.

But of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's pride in Mma Ramotswe there could be little doubt. Sometimes, for instance, he would just gaze at her in silence and think, There is no other lady quite like Mma Ramotswe in all Botswana. That thought alone filled him with pride, just as much as it was a comfort to him. To think that of all the women in the country she should have come into his life — that was a humbling realization, and reminded him of just how great a role chance plays in our human existence. It could so easily have been otherwise: she might have decided not to go out on that fateful day on which they had met. She might have gone elsewhere, encountered somebody else altogether, and married that somebody else. And yet she had not. They had met, and after a great deal of anxious hesitation he had eventually plucked up enough courage to ask her to be his wife. And she — oh, heaven-sent good fortune — had agreed.

As to his pride, there were so many reasons for this. Mma Ramotswe was a fine- looking woman, a woman of traditional build, a woman of sound and sensible views, a woman who embodied all that was praiseworthy in the national character. Yet she was also human. She was reluctant to condemn other people for not being quite as good as they might be. She was not one to expect unattainable standards. She understood that many of us would like to be better in our personal lives but somehow could not seem to achieve it. She recognised that sometimes the best we could do was simply to muddle through, get­ting some things right but also getting many things wrong. She knew all that, and was never too quick to blame or offer reproach.She was kind; she was forgiving. She did not think that people should be punished too severely for their actions, as long as they acknowledged that what they had done was wrong. If you punish some­body harshly, she said, then you are simply inflicting more pain on the world. You are also punishing not only that person, but his family and the people who love him. You are punishing yourself, really, because we are all brothers and sisters in this world, whether we know it or not; we are all citizens of the same village.

He liked her ability to exercise forgiveness, but there were other qualities that explained the pride he felt in her. One of these was the fact that she was a good cook—not necessarily one of the very best cooks in the country, but certainly somewhere in the top ten percent. Being a good cook, he thought, was not something that could necessarily be taught. You could watch other cooks, you could study recipes and experiment with new ways of doing things, but that did not necessarily mean that you would become a good cook. Being a good cook was not dissimilar to being a good mechanic—you had to have a feeling for what you were doing, and that was something that you either had or you did not. He thought of his two apprentices, Charlie and Fanwell. Fanwell had a feeling for engines—he sympathised with them; it was as if he knew what it felt like to be in need of an oil change or to be labouring under the disadvantage of ill-fitting piston rings. Charlie, for all his bluster and his bragging, never really had that. An engine could be telling him something as plainly and as unambiguously as it could, but he would fail to pick up the unmissable signs of distress. And then, when the inevitable mechanical failure occurred, rather than trying to understand what signs had been over­looked, he would bully the engine. There was no other word for it: he would bully it by removing bolts and nuts brutally; he would rip out a fuel hose, an engine’s crucial aorta, rather than coaxing it gently off its nozzle; he was not even averse to applying a hammer blow here and there in the hope of shifting some mechanical log-jam within the engine block.Fanwell was much more gentle. At a very early stage in his training he had grasped the need to listen to what a vehicle was saying. He understood that at heart engines wanted to oblige us; it was their destiny to fire properly and to run sweetly for as long as their owner wished. Engines knew that, and, if only you treated them correctly, they would do your bidding. But hit an engine, or subject it to any of the other cruelties that thoughtless owners could devise, and the engine would become as stubborn as a mule.
 
Crying Wolf
After his many novels set in Botwana and Scotland, the prolific Alexander McCall Smith, rather surprisingly, commences a new ‘Nordic Blanc’ (as opposed to Nordic Noir) series with The Department Of Sensitive Crimes. The protagonist is Ulf Varg (whose name means Wolf Wolf), who works with Malmo’s Sensitive Crimes Department.
The small, understaffed department gets dumped with cases that the regular cops cannot solve—like why a shopkeeper got stabbed at the back of his knee? How did a young woman’s non-existent boyfriend vanish? Why is someone targetting a spa run by Police Commissioner Felix Ahlström’s cousin?

While he is investigating, Ulf also broods a lot, teaches his hearing impaired dog to lip read, and tries to sort out his feelings for his colleague, Anna Bengsdotter, married to an anaesthetist. The others on the team are the super efficient Carl Holgersson and Erik Nykvist, with his passion for fishing. Then there is a uniformed cop called Blomquist assigned to the team--that name has to be inspired by the character from Stieg Larsson’s ‘Girl’ books that first brought fame and best-selling status to Scandinavian crime novels.

The book moves at a meandering pace, the cases and their solutions are bizarre, and it is not as much fun as the Botswana series. Maybe the second Varg novel will get the series going.
 
The Department Of Sensitive Crimes
By Alexander McCall Smith
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages: 240

 

SHORT TAKES
Victoria Aveyards’s bestselling Red Queen series comes to a conclusion in War Storm. Says the synopsis, “Victory comes at a price. Mare Barrow learned this all too well when Cal’s betrayal nearly destroyed her. Now determined to protect her heart—and secure freedom for Reds and newbloods like her—Mare resolves to overthrow the kingdom of Norta once and for all . . . starting with the crown on Maven’s head.

“But no battle is won alone, and before the Reds may rise as one, Mare must side with the boy who broke her heart in order to defeat the boy who almost broke her. Cal’s powerful Silver allies, alongside Mare and the Scarlet Guard, prove a formidable force. But Maven is driven by an obsession so deep, he will stop at nothing to have Mare as his own again, even if it means demolish everything—and everyone—in his path.

“War is coming, and all Mare has fought for hangs in the balance. Will victory be enough to topple the Silver kingdoms? Or will the little lightning girl be forever silenced? In the epic conclusion to Victoria Aveyard’s stunning series, Mare must embrace her fate and summon all her power . . . for all will be tested, but not all will survive.”

War Storm
By Victoria Aveyard
Publisher: Hachette India
Pages:662



 
A Year of Wednesdays is about “two strangers who meet on a flight and have nothing in common. Situations turn up in a way which force them to interact and they end up talking for the whole journey.  The flight touches down and they leave the cabin without a backward glance, never to meet again. But their lives and fates are interlocked forever through an inexplicable contentedness. One time, one encounter, lasts a lifetime.”
 
A Year of Wednesdays
By Sonia Bahl
Publisher: Fingerprint
Pages: 280

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