Apr 12, 2011

[Books] The Full Cupboard of Life (The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - Book 5)

The Full Cupboard of Life (The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - Book 5)So I'm already five books into this series and I don't see myself giving up on it any time soon. I'm still surprised at how much I'm enjoying these books - admittedly they make for light, easy reading that remains delightfully witty in just the right doses. Sure, they're not very heavy on actual mysteries, but as the series has progressed it's been made clear to us readers that it isn't all about the "glamorous" side of private investigation.

While each book in this series remains pretty short by paperback standards (about 200 or so per book), a lot goes on in each new volume, thus further enriching the stories of our beloved characters in their little corner of Botswana. And that was really what turned this series into something else entirely - give it enough time and you'll find yourself falling in love with them and no longer just focusing on whether or not there's an overly complicated mystery to follow.

In that sense, these books are more about these living, vibrant human characters and it just so happens to involve the occasional mystery on the side. Instead of sleuthing and complicated technologies we get a lot of common sense - something which isn't quite as common these days when you really think about it.

View over Gaborone, Botswana from the air. Qui...Image via WikipediaThe Full Cupboard of Life is the fifth book in Alexander McCall Smith's series of mystery novels, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. The books center around homegrown private investigator Precious Ramotswe and her little agency in Goborone, Botswana.

When we last left our protagonists, J.L.B. Matekoni (Mma Ramotswe's fiancée) had been asked by Mma Potokwani, cunning and strong-willed head matron of the local orphanage, to participate in a charity event. However the event isn't some boring little raffle - it involves J.L.B. Matekoni parachuting out of airplane in the name of the orphanage! As much as the notion terrifies him, he is unable to immediately say no to Mma Potokwani and her fruit cake and thus the matter remains hanging over his head.

On the case front, Mma Ramotswe receives an interesting case in the form of helping the wealthy business woman Mma Holonga figure out which of her five suitors is truly worthy of her hand in marriage. But figuring out whether these men love her or just her money is going to be a tricky truth to unearth, one that one can expect only Mma Ramotswe herself to figure out.

And lastly, we find out that Mma Makutsi is finally able to afford a better apartment. Between her job as assistant detective and her added income from her typing school for men, things are certainly looking up for her. However, there is also the sad revelation that her sick brother has finally died, thus also freeing her to think more about herself for a change.

This was the first book in the series that involved a single mystery instead of the usual format of 2-3 cases to investigate. Then again, the need to better address all of the more personal plot threads was pretty important at this point and I can understand why the author opted to go this route. While still playing within the mystery genre, he also needed to help his character grow to a new level as had been hinted on in the previous books.

And naturally the key story element in need of progressing is the case of Mma Ramotswe's open-ended engagement to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. While the two get along very well and do make for a great couple, it has also been many months since the engagement and no actual date has been decided upon. If anything, the question of the marriage date is almost like another mystery in this book and it's pretty interesting how we manage to navigate things well enough.

It's interesting to note how significant a character Mma Potokwani was become. While I'm sure she was valued member of the "cast" given her role with the orphanage, but her sort of rise to prominence across the books has certainly been rather impressive. With how things ultimately resolved themselves in this book, I'm curious to see what her continued role is going to be in future stories.

As much as Mma Makutsi had some pretty significant life changes in this book, I felt that by the latter half of the book she had been shoved aside to a lesser significant role. I suppose this was inevitable given how more and more of the story involved Mma Ramotswe and could only be resolved by Mma Ramotswe. It's a shame really since I've really grown to like her as a character. I hope future books give her more "screen time" - but that's just the fan in me talking.

The Full Cupboard of Life is another lovely addition to the series and one that further develops the more personal story lines of the characters in a pretty meaningful manner. It gets 4 fiendish uses of cake by Mma Potokwani out of a possible 5.
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