It’s been early Christmas at my house for a few weeks now, with new books from favorite authors arriving in a steady stream. If you want to buy books as Christmas presents for friends or for yourself, the publishers are doing their best to give you plenty of worthwhile possibilities. Here’s one near the top of my list.
Reviewed by Linda C. Brinson
THE MINOR ADJUSTMENT BEAUTY SALON. By Alexander McCall Smith. Pantheon. 242 pages. $24.95.
Alexander McCall Smith’s deceptively simple tales about Mma Precious Ramotswe and her No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana are good for the soul. Usually, not a lot happens that would make headlines or even the police blotter, but when you reach the end of the book you nod and smile, spirits lifted. You might even be a little wiser – a little more like Mma Ramotswe.
This 14th novel in the series is another gem. McCall Smith’s prose is, like the stories he spins, elegant in its simplicity. Without belaboring the facts or details, he gives us a vivid, loving picture of Botswana. By letting us spend time with his endearing yet utterly human characters, he imparts insight into what’s important – without ever seeming to preach or teach. And he amuses us by gently describing people’s foibles.
The adjective “sweet” often shows up in reviews of books in this series, and it is apt in many ways. Yet the stories are not syrupy or unrealistic. Mma Ramotswe, for all her endearing qualities that may seem at times like naiveté, has learned life’s hard lessons. She knows that some people are just bad, or at least act badly. She gives people the benefit of the doubt when she can, but she also figures out how to deal with them when necessary.
This time, she’s hired by the lawyer who is the executor of a farmer’s estate to find out if the apparent heir is who he says he is. And the proprietor of the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon asks her to find out who is trying to sabotage her new business.
Of course, in both these cases, things turn out to be more complicated than they at first seem. And Mma Ramotswe feels handicapped in her investigations because she is missing her regular consultations over cups of tea with her assistant, Grace Makutsi, who, has quite surprisingly given birth to a son. Meanwhile, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, sensing the low spirits plaguing his wife, Mma Ramotswe, sets out to become a more modern husband.
By story’s end, the reader, along with the characters, has grown in understanding about marriage, family, love, loyalty, justice – about, in a word, life.