Mar 22, 2011

[Books] Morality for Beautiful Girls (The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - Book 3)

Morality for Beautiful Girls (The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - Book 3I've come to really like the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series of mystery novels. Sure, the mysteries aren't overly complex and they don't tackle the really serious crimes that involve the usual intrigue, fear and suspense we associate with the crime genre. Instead, we get a lot of common sense combined with deductive reasoning and a woman's intuition to solve crucial problems that remain important even through they aren't necessarily exciting.

Plus the series seems almost like a long series of fables or fairy tales, but in a tone that we all have come to associate with Africa. The words are deceptively simple in their structure and form but the story they tell once brought together tends to be a lot more complex that they initially appear to be. Plus the series has a number of rather striking and memorable characters who certainly help define the overall flow and tone to things.

And they're very easy reading - which makes them perfect companions at the end of another stressful work day. While I still enjoy the complex novel here and there, we also need those books that are just there to entertain and to be enjoyed lightly with just the right amount of thinking, but not enough to stress you out all over again. That's what these books feel like to me and this is why I continue to buy them.

Morality for Beautiful Girls (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, Book 3) is the third book in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series of books written by Alexander McCall Smith. It continues the story of Precious Ramotswe and her expanding life not just as a detective but also as a mother and wife-to-be.

On the personal front, Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni appears to be stricken by a rather serious case of depression given he hardly goes to the garage anymore and spends most of his time at home. And given the prospects of needing to close down the agency, Mma Ramotswe decides to move her offices to some unused spaces at the garage in order to optimize expenses. At the same time, she tasks her junior detective / secretary Mma Grace Makutsi to also become Assitant Manager of the garage side of things especially with Mr. Maketoni indisposed.

In terms of cases, the agency is approached by an important government man regarding a case involving his brother. He suspects that his brother is being poisoned by his wife and wants Mma Ramotswe to go out to their home and determine truth. On the other hand, Mma Makutsi receives a case to help a local beauty contest for "beauty and integrity" to determine which of the candidates are truly worthy of winning this title.

Now the whole personal plot thread involving the depressed J.L.B. Maketoni certainly seemed like a major shift from how things ended in the previous book. At that time, everything seemed fine with the adoption of the two children from Mma Potokwane's orphanage and thus their little family unit already growing. But now things are in disarray again and we as readers don't get any resolution for this plot thread by the end of the book. There's certainly an amount of risk in doing something like this. It assumes an already loyal reader base that is already invested enough to find out what's wrong and what his big secret is supposed to be. While I'm still going to read the next title, I just feel like this was a bit of a stretch and it didn't make as much sense to me character-wise. I can only hope things make sense once I get through the next title.

I did appreciate the continued growth of Mma Makutsi. She's certainly developed from the mousy secretary with her 97% on her final exam but now she's proving to be much more. At first it was hard to credit her detective word since her first case was very simple but now her rigidness of beliefs is really paying off. Not only did she bag another case for the small agency, but she also managed to fully take on the role of Acting Manager for the garage in Rra Maketoni's absence. What started as a way to retain her without hurting her feelings despite the added work turned into another growing experience for her and a chance for her to truly shine as an individual.

This book was definitely weaker on the case front since Mma Ramotswe spends most of the time worrying about Rra Maketoni. Even Mma Makutsi's case came in rather late in the book and thus its resolution seemed a bit quicker than expected. And there's the unsolved case regarding the wild orphan at Mma Potokwane which we all have to wait for in the next book.

Morality For Beautiful Girls is still a good addition to the series, but clearly the author was starting to think of things more in terms of it being a series and thus the effort to "seed" the book with future plot points for latter development. The book still deserves 3.5 references to Mma Ramotswe being a "traditionally-built woman" out of 5.

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