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Book review

Staff Writer
Speaking on behalf of all the women Alexander McCall Smith (2011)

Alexander McCall Smith's The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party is the 12th in the series The Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Our friends who live on Zebra Drive and work at Tlokweng Speedy Motors are all back. We do not, though, learn much more about Mma Precious Ramotswe's and Mr J.L.B. Matekoni's two adopted children, Puso and Motholeli in Number 12.

There are now only three cases to be solved by our duo of detectives, but all of them are not really cases, and one not at all. In fact, Matekoni objects to calling one of them a case.

The first is presented by a mysterious client, wealthy, but leading a double life, one at home in Gaborone, the other near Otse on a cattle post. The second involves one of the apprentice mechanics under Matekoni, thus the reason for his rejection of even thinking of it as a case. The third actually could present a challenge and embarrassment to Matekoni as it seriously questions his judgement about cars and his ability to fix them.

Central to Number 12, as is clearly revealed in the title, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, is the fate of assistant detective Grace Makutsi, who at secretarial college was Miss 97 Percent (the reader is only reminded of this fact five times in this volume) and Mr Phuti Radiphuti, owner of the Double Comfort Furniture Shop in Gaborone.

Their marriage is finally imminent. It is bound to be a large and bountiful affair, perhaps even beyond the capacity of Miss 97 Percent to organise. Makutsi is already experiencing difficulty buying shoes for the wedding.

It does not take much imagination to guess who will step into the breach and do the job, does it? Certainly not Mma Ramotswe, who already has her hands full and would never take on too much or she would not be able to put her feet up on her desk and enjoy her cup of bush tea, a traditionally built woman needs her traditional time to relax.

Yes, you guessed right, into the void steps our marvellous cake maker, Silvia Potokwane of the "Orphan farm" in Tlokweng. Makutsi's prickliness - she is still wearing shoes that talk to her, and shoes that are constantly giving her trouble - and Mma Potokwane's bossy toughness will go well together.

Mr Phuti Radiphuti will have to have learnt how to be mobile with his artificial foot as he will be expected to walk down the aisle to get married, and then at The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party to dance with the bride - after all that is how they met, both the worst dancers taking lessons at the studio for dancing lessons.

The new themes introduced in Number 12 are: the re-emergence of the Little White Van; lifelong apprentice Charlie will learn a thing or two from one of his many girlfriends, Prudence Ramkhwane when she announces to him that she is pregnant, and with twins; Fanwell, who is soon to graduate from his apprenticeship, will try to help Charlie; the glamorous and devious Violet Sephotho is back, this time running for election to political office; and most important, Clovis Andersen and his rules are not forgotten by Mma Ramotswe.

In the course of her searching Mma Ramotswe turns to the Principles of Private Detection a number of times.

"Do not forget that although a possible

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explanation may seem likely, there may be an entirely different cause operating in the background" (page 87). "Never, ever lie to your client ... That is Rule No 3, right up there with Rules 1 and 2. Don't lie" (page 175). "There are some cases where everybody tells lies. In those cases you will never know the truth. The more you try to find out what happened, the more lies you uncover. My advice is: do not lose sleep over such matters. Move on, ladies and gentlemen: move on" (page 237).

Mma Ramotswe will be inspired by Clovis Andersen and move on as he recommends. Only one new case is really introduced in this volume to occupy Mma Ramotswe. It involves the murder of two of Botsalo Moeti's livestock on his cattle post near Otse. His approach to the Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is unusual.

He refuses to go to Tlokweng and meet Mma Ramotswe in her office, and not because he has heard how her assistant detective, Grace Makutsi, after eavesdropping will speak directly and immediately her mind no matter what the consequences.

What is Moeti hiding? Issues related to domestic violence are raised but are perhaps not adequately pursued.

What can be done to help wronged women, people caught in domestic servitude? When the Number 1 Ladies' Detective visits Moeti's farm, she has an exchange with him.

"I have to ask questions. I have to pry - otherwise, how would we find out who has done this terrible thing ... And that lady in the kitchen, what about her?" Mr Moeti hesitated. "That lady is a very close friend, Mma. She is my wife, but isn't my wife, if you understand me" (page 81)

Mma Ramotswe learns that Mpho son of Pelenomi or Mma Mpho that he attends a rural primary school nearby.

She goes there and discovers a one-teacher school, run by Oreeditse Modise, a dwarf. Even she, the unflappable detective, is caught by surprise. Mr Modise wants to help, and tells her, "We will get the truth out of him and he will tell us, or we shall give him a beating" (page 145).

Mma Ramotswe looked at the boy, "She suspected that this boy knew all about punishment, and children who knew about punishment often did not need to learn any more" (page 150).

Mma Ramotswe knew that the solution was, "Love, not punishment-that was the solution; the sort of love that Mma Potokwane could dispense to scores of children: a brisk and understanding love; a love that made them want to do their best and make the most of a world that had threatened them badly at the start of their young lives" (page 180).

Moeti's neighbour Fortitude Seleo, has a factory in Lobatse. Mma Ramotswe will make him aware that "Bad Fences make for Bad Neighbours". The question, "how do you help Charlie?" is eventually answered.

He even, in the end, apologises for shouting at Makutsi, "You shut your face, you warthog! This is none of your business" (page 57). They seem to all learn from her that, "Yes, we have only one heart, but as you grow older, your heart grows bigger. A child loves only one or two things: we love so many things".
Yes, there is a future for wronged women, as justice can be found for them.
 E-mail: sheridangriswold@yahoo.com



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