Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith

December 11, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): The second installment of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series picks up where the first one left off. Precious Ramotswe, proprietor of the only ladies’ detective agency in Botswana, continues to investigate cases while also preparing for her upcoming marriage to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, owner of a successful auto mechanic garage. The domestic storyline takes up a considerable amount of the book, and deals with such things as buying an engagement ring, deciding which house to live in (they chose Precious’s house), and adopting two orphans, siblings Motholeli and Puso, after Mr. Matekoni was basically strong-armed into doing so by the director of the orphanage.

The two cases highlighted in the book include a butcher who suspects his wife is cheating on him, and an American woman whose son disappeared without a trace under suspicious circumstances 10 years ago while living in a commune of sorts. As usual, both cases were solved using thinking and reasoning, with just a dash of active detective work (such as stakeouts and interviewing witnesses) thrown in.

One of the notable plot developments in this book was that Mma Makutsi, the secretary at No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, was promoted to assistant detective and handled the butcher’s case on her own. She is proud to have “broken the glass ceiling”, and takes new responsibilities just as seriously as she did her secretarial duties.

Liked:

  • I really enjoyed the writing in this one. Now that I knew not to expect a real whodunit type of mystery, I was far more prepared for the leisurely, roundabout way Smith told the story. It’s more about Precious Ramotswe’s character and the customs and traditions of Africa than about solving crimes, and that’s what makes it special.
  • I think the Mma Makutsi character is terrific, and was thrilled to see her promoted to assistant detective. That was actually a very touching, nuanced scene. As a reader, I don’t take the detective agency very seriously. Precious Ramotswe, with no real training at all, just decided to be a detective one day and started up the business. But the two women take it very seriously, so a promotion like this truly meant the world to Mma Makutsi.
  • I liked the ending to the case of the missing son. I know it was kind of cheesy, but I’m a sucker for those happy endings. It was one thing for the mother to learn for sure that her son was dead (she’d had 10 years to reconcile herself to the inevitable); it was quite another to learn she had a grandchild.

Disliked:

  • The story of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s maid was a bit out there. Would she really have gone to all that trouble to try to preserve her job? I understand that she had a cushy position and all, but it’s not like she wouldn’t have been able to find something else. I don’t know… maybe it’s just me, but I thought it was a bit extreme of her to try to plant a gun in Precious Ramotswe’s house in order to break up the engagement. She probably would have been better off planting some sexy lingerie to try to make it look like Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni was having an affair. At least that way if she got caught, she wouldn’t end up going to prison.
  • Since I found the case of the woman’s missing son to be the most interesting, I got a little impatient when Smith broke away from it for so long. I know that’s kind of the style of these books, and even though I was expecting it this time, it was still annoying.

Rating:

After being somewhat lukewarm about the first installment of the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, I thoroughly enjoyed Tears of the Giraffe and now consider myself a fan. This book was well-written and did a lot to develop the characters I have grown to like very much. You’ll notice I classify this book as Contemporary Literature, not as Mystery/Suspense. This is clearly not something to read if you’re looking for a potboiler. Instead, take it for the paean to Africa that it is. I give the book 4 stars out of 5.

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