How a No. 1 Lady can set things right

I was onstage Friday night and, what with the makeup and show, out of touch with the real world for several hours. We had a very strong performance of a charming show, “Enchanted April,” which, from the laughter and applause, delighted our audience.

woman who walked in sunshineOn the short drive home I planned my evening: Everyone would be in bed, if not asleep, and I would have the house to myself. I’d pour a glass of wine and finish the last 30 pages of “The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine,” the new No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novel I was reading. Then, satisfied, bed. But when I got home my oldest son was sitting in the den, the television on, his face worried: “I don’t know if you heard, but…”

I hadn’t, but the crawl on the bottom of the television filled me in quickly: More than 100 dead in a series of terrorist attacks in Paris. I am ashamed to admit I sighed in disappointment because my plans for a pleasant hour were ruined because the world had been thrown into turmoil. As penance for that feeling, I am nothing if not Catholic, I did the only thing I could: I poured myself that wine and watched the news reports, Mma Ramotswe forgotten for the moment.

Mma Ramotswe is the No. 1 Lady who opened a detective agency in Botswana 16 books ago and has been making things right ever since. Alexander McCall Smith’s series, despite its longevity, has never lost its charm, though calling it a “detective series” is being generous. What McCall Smith does through Mma Ramotswe and her ambitious former secretary Mma Makutsi and the cases they solve, is remind us that while bad people do bad things, there are better people doing better things.

In this novel, the hard-working Mma Ramotswe is pressed into taking a vacation and it goes about as well as anyone might expect. Bored, she starts meddling in cases at work, much to the dismay of Mma Makutsi, who wastes no time at all moving into Mma Ramotswe’s desk. And then there is a little street boy Mma Ramotswe meets on her first day of vacation.

It doesn’t matter what the cases are, it’s the charm of the story that keeps readers turning the pages of these books. That and McCall Smith’s insight into human nature and today’s world. In lieu of a full-on review, I leave you with some quotes from “The Woman who Walked in Sunshine” that seem particularly fitting, even comforting, today.

“The trouble with the world today, she thought, was that people were not prepared to stand up to bad behaviour. They looked away, they pretended they had not seen anything.”

“Mma Ramotswe was glad that Mma Makutsi had found (a happy life), and often reflected on how it had all come from that singular chance of going to a dance lesson at the Botswana Academy of Dance and Movement and meeting a man unable to dance a step and who had, at the time, a bad speech impediment. … It had all worked out so well, and yet had she had a headache that evening and not gone to the dance class, it would never have happened. On those little chance events, thought Mma Ramotswe, hung our entire lives.”

And finally:

“It was a web of misunderstanding and deceit, but ultimately it was truth that had come to the fore. Which so often happened, thought Mma Ramotswe. Truth had a way of coming out on top—and it was just as well for everybody that it did. If there ever came a day when truth was so soundly defeated that it never emerged, but sank, instead, under the sheer volume of untruth that the world produced, then that would be a sad day for Botswana, and for the people who lived in Botswana. It would be a sad day for the whole world, that day.”

In unsettled times, it’s important to remember that good ultimately and always wins.

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