#BookReview Blue Shoes and Happiness by Alexander McCall Smith

Blue Shoes and HappinessAbout the Book

Mma Ramotswe is happily married to Mr J. L. B. Matekoni, but her work seems more hectic than ever. Among the raft of cases coming the way of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency are blackmail, witchcraft and theft, all calling for the wisdom of a traditionally built detective.

It’s enough to make her wonder what the secret of happiness is, and whether she is right to find it in small things such as a pair of blue shoes, a slice of cake, or a red sunset over Kalahari.

Format: Paperback (250 pages)        Publisher: Abacus
Publication date:  13th March 2007 Genre: Crime

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My Review

Blue Shoes and Happiness is the seventh book in the author’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. I was an avid reader of the series when it began but somehow other books got in the way and I’m now way behind as the author has just published book twenty-two in the series and there is another one on the way in 2022!  Although for sheer enjoyment ideally you’d want to read from the beginning, I think it’s possible to come to the series at any point as the author is skilled at unobtrusively incorporating background details about the characters and previous events.

For my part, it was a complete delight to be reunited with the lovely main characters: the ‘traditionally built’ Mma Ramotswe, her gentle husband Mr. J. L. B. Maketoni (only Mma Ramotswe knows what those initials stand for) and Mma Makutsi, Mma Ramotswe’s assistant, whose love of shoes gives the book its title.

Mma Ramotswe’s down-to-earth wisdom and pithy observations contribute to the book’s gentle humour. Her keen eye for detail and ability to get people to talk are a key part of her success as a private detective, along with the guidance to be found in her cherished reference book, The Principles of Detection by Clovis Anderson. Frequent cups of her favourite bush tea also help in solving the cases that come to her. As Mma Ramotswe observes, ‘Most problems could be diminished by the drinking of tea and the thinking through of things that could be done while tea was being drunk. And even if that did not solve problems, at least it could put them off for a little while, which we sometimes needed to do, we really did’.  

One of the things that has endeared so many people to the series, including me, is the way in which the author’s love and admiration for Botswana – the country and its people – shines through the stories. Often it’s through family links that Mma Ramtoswe makes her breakthroughs. As described in the book, the ‘Botswana way’ is built on ‘ties of kinship, no matter how attentuated by distance or time, [that] linked one person to another, weaving across the country a human blanket of love and community. And in the fibres of that blanket there were threads of obligation that meant that one could not ignore the claims of others’. I think we could all do with a human blanket of love and community in present times.

Blue Shoes and Happiness is the sort of book that leaves you with a warm feeling at the end. ‘Happiness was an elusive thing. It had something to do with having beautiful shoes, sometimes; but it was about so much else. About a country. About a people.’ Does Mma Ramotswe solve the raft of cases she’s faced with in the book? Of course she does, and in ways that only she can.

In three words: Charming, humorous, uplifting

Try something similarMadam Tulip by David Ahern

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Alexander McCall Smith

About the Author

Alexander McCall Smith is the author of over one hundred books on a wide array of subjects, including the award-winning The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. He is also the author of the Isabel Dalhousie novels and the world’s longest-running serial novel, 44 Scotland Street. His books have been translated into forty-six languages.

Alexander McCall Smith is Professor Emeritus of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh and holds honorary doctorates from thirteen universities. (Photo: Goodreads author page)

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#BookReview A Three Dog Problem by S. J. Bennett @ZaffreBooks

A Three Dog ProblemAbout the Book

In the wake of a referendum which has divided the nation, the last thing the Queen needs is any more problems to worry about. But when an oil painting of the Royal Yacht Britannia – first given to the Queen in the 1960s – shows up unexpectedly in a Royal Navy exhibition, she begins to realise that something is up.

When a body is found in the Palace swimming pool, she finds herself once again in the middle of an investigation which has more twists and turns than she could ever have suspected. With her trusted secretary Rozie by her side, the Queen is determined to solve the case. But will she be able to do it before the murderer strikes again?

Format: Hardcover (388 pages)              Publisher: Zaffre
Publication date: 11th November 2021 Genre: Crime, Mystery

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My Review

A Three Dog Problem proved to be the perfect contrast to the run of rather serious books I’ve read lately. It’s a delightful, charming mystery in which Her Majesty proves herself to be just as astute and no-nonsense as we always imagined. As one of her staff observes, ‘She was a hell of a lot sharper than she looked. Mistakes were picked up on. Dry comments were made. Eyes were rolled.’

Ex-soldier Rozie, the Queen’s Assistant Private Secretary, is a great character and a force to be reckoned with. As she reminds herself, when the enquiries she has set in train take an unexpectedly risky turn, ‘her regimental specialism had been “find, strike, destroy, suppress”‘.

I loved the humorous elements in the book such as Prince Philip’s petname for his wife being Cabbage, the idea of the Queen googling herself on her iPad to find out where she was on a particular date, and that she spent some of her time at Balmoral binge-watching Murder She Wrote.

I also enjoyed the ‘behind the scenes’ look at life in a royal palace, an increasingly dilapidated one as it turns out in the case of Buckingham Palace. And, as Rozie observes, at night its character changes. ‘The majority of staff went home, the flood of tradesmen, craftsmen and daily visitors slowed to a trickle, and the place was reclaimed by those who lived there or habitually worked late. The buildings stopped trying to impress and their occupants got on with the task of working as efficiently as they could in a rabbit warren of corridors that ceased to make sense two hundred years ago.’

External events such as the fallout from the Brexit referendum and the US Presidential election provide a subtle backdrop to the main storyline. The Queen muses about women who have achieved things or may do so in the future, such as Hilary Clinton, whilst underplaying her own role in world affairs. And there is a moving scene in which the Queen attends the annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the Cenotaph; it’s especially poignant as ill-health meant she was unable to attend the ceremony for only the seventh time in her long reign this year.

And, of course, at the heart of the book is an ingenious mystery involving amongst other things an unexplained death, poison pen letters, Renaissance art, and some murky goings-on in the bowels of Buckingham Palace.  Definitely a three dog problem.

I know many readers have fallen in love with this series, which commenced with The Windsor Knot in 2020, and I can now understand why. The good news is the author promises there’s another book on the way next year.

I received an a review copy courtesy of Zaffre and Readers First.

In three words: Engaging, witty, lively

Try something similar: The Vanishing Bride by Bella Ellis

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S J BennettAbout the Author

S. J. Bennett wrote several award-winning books for teenagers before turning to adult crime novels. She lives in London and has been a royal watcher for years, but is keen to stress that these are works of fiction: the Queen, to the best of her knowledge, does not secretly solve crimes. (Photo: Goodreads author page)

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