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The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection
By Alexander McCall Smith
Little, Brown, 261pp, $34.99 (hardback)
Released 2012

Precious Ramotswe and her associate, Grace Makutsi (now married), return in the popular No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

Their thirteenth adventure begins with dreams and portents.

Mma Ramotswe dreams she will meet a man whom she knows, but has never seen, under an acacia tree. Mma Makutsi favours a literal interpretation of the dream. When Mma Ramotswe seeks to conclude the conversation with a morning cuppa, her associate replies: “On a hot day, we dream of tea.”

It is well that they are fortified with tea, for disaster follows. At Tlokweng Speedy Motors, the conscientious apprentice, Fanwell, is taken into police custody for working on stolen cars, and Mma Silvia Potokwani, matron of the orphan farm and defender of the weak, is dismissed from her post and disappears. If that’s not shocking enough, how will the married couple, Grace and Phuti Radiphuti, deal with a dubious contract for the construction of their new home?

Into these conundrums arrives Mr Clovis Andersen, US author of The Principles of Private Detection, with a surprising secret.

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection unfolds with the leisured, courteous pace that we expect of Alexander McCall Smith’s books. The dry heat and vibrant colours of Africa are the backdrop to the weekly dilemmas at the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. The characters are well-drawn and familiar to readers of the series, and quickly become family to all readers. Filtered through Mma Ramotswe’s eyes, courtesy and humanity are ever-present, never more so than when the solutions are delivered.

The introduction of Clovis Andersen, whose book is Mma Ramotswe’s rule book for private detection, is a master-stroke. The title hints that his presence in Botswana may continue.

Alexander McCall Smith has a knack for writing the life as a warm and lively miniature – much as Jane Austen does.

In interviews, he has claimed the applause for the term ‘traditionally built’ which describes Mma Ramotswe’s generous figure. It’s almost a double entendre given the lady’s emphasis on traditions. In a Brisbane interview some years ago, Sandy McCutcheon commented on McCall Smith’s ability to write warmly and kindly from a female perspective. Intriguingly, McCall Smith declined to speak about the inspiration for Mma Ramotswe and Isobel Dalhousie (heroine of the Sunday Philosopher series).

McCall Smith has such a fondness for Mma Ramotswe that a growing series about her detective abilities as a young adult are available – a great way to create a legion of new fans who will grow into the adult books.

Bring on adventure 14! Will Charlie ever complete his apprenticeship at Speedy Motors? Will Clovis Andersen make his new home in Botswana? What new havoc will Violet Sephotho create for Grace and Phuti? What adventures await the adopted children of Precious Ramotswe and her husband J. L. B. Matekoni?