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On Sale: June 08, 2004
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

THE NO. 1 LADIES DETECTIVE AGENCY.
FOR ALL CONFIDENTIAL MATTERS AND ENQUIRIES. SATISFACTION GUARANTEED FOR ALL PARTIES.
UNDER PERSONAL MANAGEMENT.


A beguiling mystery and lyrical novel of Africa -- the fourth in a series that the L.A. Times calls “thoroughly engaging and entertaining.”

Now that The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (the only detective agency for ladies and others in Botswana) is established, its founder, Precious Ramotswe, can look upon her life with pride: she’s reached her late thirties (“the finest age to be”), has a house, two children, a good fiancé -- Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni -- and many satisfied customers. But life is never without its problems. It turns out that her adopted son is responsible for the dead hoopoe bird in the garden; her assistant, Mma Makutsi, wants a husband and needs help with her idea to open the Kalahari Typing School for Men; yet Mma Ramotswe’s sexist rival has no trouble opening his Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency across town. Will Precious Ramotswe’s delightfully cunning and profoundly moral methods save the day? Follow the continuing story of Botswana’s first lady detective in the irresistible The Kalahari Typing School for Men.

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

How to Find a Man

I must remember, thought Mma. Ramotswe, how fortunate I am in this life; at every moment, but especially now, sitting on the verandah of my house in Zebra Drive, and looking up at the high sky of Botswana, so empty that the blue is almost white. Here she was then, Precious Ramotswe, owner of Botswana's only detective agency, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency--an agency which by and large had lived up to its initial promise to provide satisfaction for its clients, although some of them, it must be said, could never be satisfied. And here she was too, somewhere in her late thirties, which as far as she was concerned was the very finest age to be; here she was with the house in Zebra Drive and two orphan children, a boy and a girl, bringing life and chatter into the home. These were blessings with which anybody should be content. With these things in one's life, one might well say that nothing more was needed.

But there was more. Some time ago, Mma. Ramotswe had become engaged to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and by all accounts the finest mechanic in Botswana, a kind man, and a gentle one. Mma. Ramotswe had been married once before, and the experience had been disastrous. Note Mokoti, the smartly dressed jazz trumpeter, might have been a young girl's dream, but he soon turned out to be a wife's nightmare. There had been a daily diet of cruelty, of hurt given out like a ration, and when, after her fretful pregnancy, their tiny, premature baby had died in her arms, so few hours after it had struggled into life, Note had been off drinking in a shebeen somewhere. He had not even come to say good-bye to the little scrap of humanity that had meant so much to her and so little to him. When at last she left Note, Mma. Ramotswe would never forget how her father, Obed Ramotswe, whom even today she called the Daddy, had welcomed her back and had said nothing about her husband, not once saying I knew this would happen. And from that time she had decided that she would never again marry unless--and this was surely impossible--she met a man who could live up to the memory of the late Daddy, that fine man whom everybody respected for his knowledge of cattle and for his understanding of the old Botswana ways.

Naturally there had been offers. Her old friend Hector Mapondise had regularly asked her to marry him, and although she had just as regularly declined, he had always taken her refusals in good spirit, as befitted a man of his status (he was a cousin of a prominent chief). He would have made a perfectly good husband, but the problem was that he was rather dull and, try as she might, Mma. Ramotswe could scarcely prevent herself from nodding off in his company. It would be very difficult being married to him; a somnolent experience, in fact, and Mma. Ramotswe enjoyed life too much to want to sleep through it. Whenever she saw Hector Mapondise driving past in his large green car, or walking to the post office to collect his mail, she remembered the occasion on which he had taken her to lunch at the President Hotel and she had fallen asleep at the table, halfway through the meal. It had given a new meaning, she reflected, to the expression sleeping with a man. She had woken, slumped back in her chair, to see him staring at her with his slightly rheumy eyes, still talking in his low voice about some difficulty he was having with one of the machines at his factory.

"Corrugated iron is not easy to handle," he was saying. "You need very special machines to push the iron into that shape. Do you know that, Mma. Ramotswe? Do you know why corrugated iron is the shape it is?"

Mma. Ramotswe had not thought about this. Corrugated iron was widely used for roofing: was it, then, something to do with providing ridges for the rain to run off? But why would that be necessary in a dry country like Botswana? There must be some other reason, she imagined, although it was not immediately apparent to her. The thought of it, however, made her feel drowsy again, and she struggled to keep her eyes open.

No, Hector Mapondise was a worthy man, but far too dull. He should seek out a dull woman, of whom there were legions throughout the country, women who were slow-moving and not very exciting, and he should marry one of these bovine ladies. But the problem was that dull men often had no interest in such women and fell for people like Mma. Ramotswe. That was the trouble with people in general: they were surprisingly unrealistic in their expectations. Mma. Ramotswe smiled at the thought, remembering how, as a young woman, she had had a very tall friend who had been loved by an extremely short man. The short man looked up at the face of his beloved, from almost below her waist, and she looked down at him, almost squinting over the distance that separated them. That distance could have been one thousand miles or more--the breadth of the Kalahari and back; but the short man was not to realise that, and was to desist, heartsore, only when the tall girl's equally tall brother stooped down to look into his eyes and told him that he was no longer to look at his sister, even from a distance, or he would face some dire, unexpressed consequence. Mma. Ramotswe felt sorry for the short man, of course, as she could never find it in herself to dismiss the feelings of others; he should have realised how impossible were his ambitions, but people never did.

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni was a very good man, but, unlike Hector Mapondise, he could not be described as dull. That was not to say that he was exciting, in the way in which Note had seemed exciting; he was just easy company. You could sit with Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni for hours, during which he might say nothing very important, but what he said was never tedious. Certainly he talked about cars a great deal, as most men did, but what he had to say about them was very much more interesting than what other men had to say on the subject. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni regarded cars as having personalities, and he could tell just by looking at a car what sort of owner it had.

"Cars speak about people," he had once explained to her. "They tell you everything you need to know."

It had struck Mma. Ramotswe as a strange thing to say, but Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni had gone on to illustrate his point with a number of telling examples. Had she ever seen the inside of the car belonging to Mr. Motobedi Palati, for example? He was an untidy man, whose tie was never straight and whose shirt was permanently hanging out of his trousers. Not surprisingly, the inside of his car was a mess, with unattached wires sticking out from under the dashboard and a hole underneath the driver's seat--so that dust swirled up into the car and covered everything with a brown layer. Or what about that rather intimidating nursing sister from the Princess Marina Hospital, the one who had humiliated a well-known politician when she had heckled him at a public meeting, raising questions about nurses' pay that he simply could not answer? Her car, as one might expect, was in pristine condition and smelled vaguely of antiseptic. He could come up with further examples if she wished, but the point was made, and Mma. Ramotswe nodded her head in understanding.

It was Mma. Ramotswe's tiny white van that had brought them together. Even before she had taken it for repair at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, she had been aware of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, as a rather quiet man who lived by himself in a house near the old Botswana Defence Force Club. She had wondered why he was by himself, which was so unusual in Botswana, but had not thought much about him until he had engaged her in conversation after he had serviced the van one day, and had warned her about the state of her tyres. Thereafter she had taken to dropping in to see him in the garage from time to time, exchanging views about the day's events and enjoying the tea which he brewed on an old stove in the corner of his office.

Then there had come that extraordinary day when the tiny white van had choked and refused to start, and he had spent an entire afternoon in the yard at Zebra Drive, the van's engine laid out in what seemed like a hundred pieces, its very heart exposed. He had put everything together and had come into the house as evening fell and they had sat together on her verandah. He had asked her to marry him, and she had said that she would, almost without thinking about it, because she realised that here was a man who was as good as her father, and that they would be happy together.

Mma. Ramotswe had not been prepared for Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni to fall ill, or at least to fall ill in the way in which he had done. It would have been easier, perhaps, if his illness had been one of the body, but it was his mind which was affected, and it seemed to her that the man she had known had simply vacated his body and gone somewhere else. Thanks to Mma. Silvia Potokwani, matron of the orphan farm, and to the drugs which Dr. Moffat gave to Mma. Potokwani to administer to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, the familiar personality returned. The obsessive brooding, the air of defeat, the lassitude--all these faded away and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni began to smile again and take an interest in the business he had so uncharacteristically neglected.

Of course, during his illness he had been unable to run the garage, and it had been Mma. Ramotswe's assistant, Mma. Makutsi, who had managed to keep that going. Mma. Makutsi had done wonders with the garage. Not only had she made major steps in reforming the lazy apprentices, who had given Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni such trouble with their inconsiderate way with cars (one had even been seen to use a hammer on an engine), but she had attracted a great deal of new customers to the garage. An increasing number of women had their own cars now, and they were delighted to take them to a garage run by a lady. Mma. Makutsi may not have known a great deal about engines when she first started to run the garage, but she had learned quickly and was now quite capable of carrying out service and routine repairs on most makes of car, provided that they were not too modern and too dependent on temperamental devices of the sort which German car manufacturers liked to hide in cars to confuse mechanics elsewhere.

"What are we going to do to thank her?" asked Mma. Ramotswe. "She's put so much work into the garage, and now here you are back again, and she is just going to be an assistant manager and assistant private detective once more. It will be hard for her."

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni frowned. "I would not like to upset her," he said. "You are right about how hard she has worked. I can see it in the books. Everything is in order. All the bills are paid, all the invoices properly numbered. Even the garage floor is cleaner, and there is less grease all over the place."

"And yet her life is not all that good," mused Mma. Ramotswe. "She is living in that one room over at Old Naledi with a sick brother. I cannot pay her very much. And she has no husband to look after her. She deserves better than that."

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni agreed. He would be able to help her by allowing her to continue as assistant manager of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, but it was difficult to see what he could do beyond that. Certainly the question of husbands had nothing to do with him. He was a man, after all, and the problems which single girls had in their lives were beyond him. It was women's business, he thought, to help their friends when it came to meeting people. Surely Mma. Ramotswe could advise her on the best tactics to adopt in that regard? Mma. Ramotswe was a popular woman who had many friends and admirers. Was there not something that Mma. Makutsi could do to find a husband? Surely she could be told how to go about it?

Mma. Ramotswe was not at all sure about this. "You have to be careful what you say," she warned Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. "People don't like you to think that they know nothing. Especially somebody like Mma. Makutsi, with her ninety-seven percent or whatever it was. You can't go and tell somebody like that that they don't know a basic thing, such as how to find a husband."

"It's nothing to do with ninety-seven percent," said Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. "You could get one hundred percent for typing and still not know how to talk to men. Getting married is different from being able to type. Quite different."

The mention of marriage had made Mma. Ramotswe wonder about when they were going to get married themselves, and she almost asked him about this but stopped. Dr. Moffat had explained to her that it was important that Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni should not be subjected to too much stress, even if he had recovered from the worst of his depression. It would undoubtedly be stressful for him if she started to ask about wedding dates, and so she said nothing about that and even agreed--for the sake of avoiding stress--to speak to Mma. Makutsi at some time in the near future with a view to finding out whether the issue of husbands could be helped in any way with a few well-chosen words of advice.

During Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's illness they had moved the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency into the back office at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. It had proved to be a successful arrangement: the affairs of the garage could be easily supervised from the back of the building, and there was a separate entrance for agency clients. Each business benefited in other ways. Those who brought their cars in for repair sometimes realised that there was a matter which might benefit from investigation--an errant husband, for example, or a missing relative--while others who came with a matter for the agency would arrange at the same time for their cars to be serviced or their brakes to be checked.


From the Hardcover edition.
Alexander McCall Smith|Author Desktop

About Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith - The Kalahari Typing School for Men

Photo © Michael Lionstar

Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the beloved, bestselling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, the 44 Scotland Street series, and the Corduroy Mansions series. He is also the author of numerous children’s books. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh and has served with many national and international organizations concerned with bioethics. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and taught law at the University of Botswana. He lives in Scotland. Visit his website at www.alexandermccallsmith.com.

Author Q&A

What's What and Who's Who in THE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY
Alexander McCall Smith's Guide to the World of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

First and foremost, Mma Ramotswe:
Mma is the term used to address a woman, and may be placed before her name. It is pronounced "ma" (with a long a)

Rra is the rough equivalent of "mister". It is pronounced "rar", but with a slight rolling of the second r.

Mma Ramotswe is the daughter of the late Obed Ramotswe. African English makes frequent use of the word late in this context. People say: "My father is late" rather than use more brutal expressions. At one point Mma Ramotswe refers to a "late dog" which had been run over by a steamroller. This shows great delicacy.

Mr J.L.B. Matekoni always uses his initials. Why this formality? People in Botswana can be fairly formal with one another. In Mr J.L.B. Matekoni's case, that is what he has always been called and nobody has ever found out what the initials stand for. The L is, in fact, Livingstone.

Sir Seretse Khama is referred to from time to time. Mma Ramotswe is a great admirer of his and feels proud of the first President of Botswana. Sir Seretse was a great man, who set the moral tone of the new republic.

Dr Moffat appears from time to time, together with his wife, Fiona. They are real people who currently live in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana. Howard Moffat, a doctor, is a direct descendant of Robert Moffat, the Scottish missionary who first rendered the Setswana language in written form. Robert Moffat's daughter married David Livingstone.

Setswana, the language spoken in most of Botswana. Most people speak English too and newspapers, for example, will be in both languages.

Bush tea is very important to Mma Ramotswe and her assistant, Mma Makutsi. It is a reddish tea, caffeine-free, which is also known as rooibos (red bush tea). It is an acquired taste, and may be drunk with honey, in which case it is called honeybush tea.

Masarwa. This term is commonly used to refer to the San people (previously called Bushmen) who inhabited the Kalahari and who have gradually moved away from their hunter-gatherer life.

The Kalahari is a semi-desert which occupies the central and western parts of Botswana. It supports light vegetation, but very few people.

The Orphan Farm exists, though not under that name. The orphans live in small houses presided over by a housemother. There is a matron (called, in the books, Mma Potokwani) and a man who is officially employed as a father figure, surely one of the more unusual job titles. In the past, the matron's husband occupied that job.

The Bishop. Mma Ramotswe admires the Bishop. He is in charge of the Anglican Cathedral, which is directly opposite the Princess Marina Hospital. The last occupant of this office was the Bishop Walter Makhulu, who has recently handed over to Bishop Theophilus.

Mafikeng (formerly Mafeking) lies to the south, outside the borders of Botswana. Mma Ramotswe previously shopped there, but now that Gaborone has better shops she is content to do all her shopping there.

Zebra Drive. This is where Mma Ramotswe has her house. There is a Zebra Way in Gaborone. Mma Ramotswe's house is the last house on the left before the Zebra Way turns the corner.

Tlokweng Road, the road on which Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors sits, goes to Tlokweng, some five or six miles outside Gaborone. The Francistown Road goes to Francistown, in the North, and the Lobatse Road goes to Lobatse. To get to Molepolole, one should take the Molepolole Road.

The Village is the old part of the Gaborone. Mr J.L.B. Matekoni lives on the edge of the Village, near the old Botswana Defence Force Club.

Acacia trees cover the land. They have light greyish-greenish leaves and harbour birds such as the Go-Away Bird with its famous cry, or doves.

Cattle are very important. They are everywhere. A person's prosperity will usually be measured by the number of cattle he or she has.

Praise

Praise

“Spare and neatly crafted, The Kalahari Typing School for Men sparkles with African sunshine and Mma Ramotswe’s wit.” —The Dallas Morning News

The Kalahari Typing School for Men [is] simply charming in the extreme. . . . This series’ huge appeal lies in its mannerly folk wisdom and wry, gentle humor, full of wit, nuance and caring. It’s an oasis in a genre that too often seems a desert of violence and inhumanity.” —Chicago Sun-Times

“This loosely woven novel is as beguiling as Alexander McCall Smith’s earlier books about the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. His prose is deceptively simple, with a gift for evoking the earth and sky of Africa.” —The Seattle Times

“Get your hands on one of the mysteries from The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series…. Each book is a thinly disguised love letter…to the people and culture of Southern Africa. A great escape.” --Elle
Reader's Guide|About the Book|Author Biography|Discussion Questions|Suggestions

About the Book

NATIONAL BESTSELLER

"Spare and neatly crafted. . . . Sparkles with African sunshine and Mma Ramotswe's wit." —The Dallas Morning News

The introduction, discussion questions, author biography, and suggested reading list that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Alexander McCall Smith’s The Kalahari Typing School for Men, the fourth novel in the acclaimed No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

About the Guide

For some time, Precious Ramotswe has had the private investigation field to herself. She’s had not just the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency but the only private detective agency in Gaborone, Botswana. But competition arrives when Mr. Cephas Buthelezi—an ex-policeman with big city experience in Johannesburg and New York—opens the Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency. Mr. Buthelezi presents himself as a tough guy who has solved murder cases and jewel thefts, and he warns potential clients not to take any chances: “Entrust your enquiries to a MAN!” Naturally, Mma Ramotswe and her able assistant Mma Makutsi are offended by this typical male assertion of superiority. In their view, women are better suited to detective work not because of toughness or training, but unlike men, they notice things, pay attention, listen, and have a keen understanding of human psychology. Now they’ll have to test their talents against a man who threatens to take their clients away. With money in short supply, losing clients would be devastating, especially to Mma Makutsi, who needs greater income not only for herself but for her family. Since necessity is the mother of invention, she comes up with the idea to open a typing school for men. Men are bad typists, she reasons, and they hate to be shown up by women, so a typing school for men might be just the thing to solve her money issues. Little does she know that it might also bring romance into her life. As for Mma Ramotswe, even as she worries over the behavior of her adopted children and the competing agency across town, she must help one client make amends for his past misdeeds and another discover if her husband is being unfaithful. Through it all, the warmth, natural intelligence, and unfailing compassion of Precious Ramotswe shine through, making The Kalahari Typing School for Men as enjoyable as it is instructive.

About the Author

Alexander McCall Smith is a professor of medical law at Edinburgh University. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and taught law at the University of Botswana. He is the author of over fifty books on a wide range of subjects, including specialist titles such as Forensic Aspects of Sleep and The Criminal Law of Botswana, children’s books such as The Perfect Hamburger, and three short works collected under the title Portuguese Irregular Verbs.


From the Hardcover edition.

Discussion Guides

1. Mma Ramotswe observes, “The trouble with men, of course, was that they went about with their eyes half closed for much of the time. Sometimes Mma Ramotswe wondered whether men actually wanted to see anything, or whether they decided that they would notice only the things that interested them” [p. 17]. What other statements about the differences between men and women occur in The Kalahari Typing School for Men? What perception about male psychology allows Mma Makutsi to open the typing school?

2. What prompts Mr. Molefelo to seek out Mma Ramotswe’s help? How is his request different from what most people would ask of a private detective?

3. In considering the changing morality of modern times, Mma Ramotswe suggests that people are now “far too ready to abandon their husbands and wives because they had tired of them. . . . And friends, too. They could become very demanding, but all you had to do was to walk out. Where had all this come from, she wondered. It was not African, she thought, and it certainly had nothing to do with the old Botswana morality. So it must have come from somewhere else” [pp. 109–110]. Where might such changes in attitude have come from? What are the consequences of this weakened sense of loyalty, both in the novel particularly, and in society more generally?

4. How does Mma Ramotswe respond to Motholeli’s unhappiness? Why is she able to sympathize with the orphan girl’s pain so strongly? What important message does Mma Ramotswe give her?

5. Discussing the relationship between education and experience, Mma Potokwani says, “You don’t have to read a book to understand how the world works. . . . You just have to keep your eyes open.” Mma Ramotswe agrees but feels a “great respect for books. . . . One could never read enough. Never” [p. 133]. How does Mma Ramotswe embody a balance between knowledge gained from life experience and knowledge gained from books?

6. Why does Mr. Cephas Buthelezi, the arrogant detective who tries to usurp Mma Ramotswe, decide to quit? Why do all his experience, training, and travels fail to serve him in Botswana? What does he lack that Mma Ramotswe has?

7. As Mma Ramotswe confronts Mr. Selepeng about his behavior toward Mma Makutsi, she refrains from lecturing him. “I could never be a judge, she thought; I could not sit there and punish people after they have begun to feel sorry for what they have done” [p. 183]. Where else in the novel does she exhibit this ability to listen without judging? How does this ethos differ from the typical ways of dealing with the guilty in American detective fiction and American life in general? Why is Mma Ramotswe able to feel such compassion even for those who have clearly hurt others?

8. Near the end of The Kalahari Typing School for Men, as the novel’s various problems are being resolved, Mma Ramotswe observes, “It was astonishing how life had a way of working out, even when everything looked so complicated and unpromising” [p. 188]. Does the novel resolve its problems too easily? Or do these resolutions faithfully reflect the degree to which Mma Ramotswe, Mma Makutsi, Mr J.L.B. Maketoni, Mma Potokwani, and other characters live in harmony with their world?

9. Mr. Buthelezi trumpets his “toughness” and police-force experience in dealing with serious criminals, along with his knowledge of how detective work is carried out in New York and other big cities. Through the character of Mr. Buthelezi, is Alexander McCall Smith making a statement about the kind of detective who appears in more conventional mystery novels? Why is Mr. Buthelezi so ill suited to the needs of the people of Botswana?

10. What is so appealing about the world in which Mma Ramotswe lives? In what ways is it different from contemporary American society? Are the values and attitudes of Mma Ramotswe translatable into American life?

11. If you have read any of the other novels in the series, what are the recurring themes and situations? In what ways are the books similar? How does Alexander McCall Smith keep the stories fresh?

12. In place of violence and revenge, the novels in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective series substitute understanding and forgiveness. How is Alexander McCall Smith able to make this reversal of values so satisfying, in both the literary and moral senses?

Suggested Readings

Janet Evanovich, One for the Money; Alexandra Fuller, Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood; Peter Godwin, Mukiwa: A White Boy in Africa; Nadine Gordimer, Six Feet of the Country; Tony Hillerman, The Wailing Wind; J. Nozipo Maraire, Zenzele: A Letter for My Daughter; James Patterson, 2nd Chance; Wole Soyinka, The Burden of Memory, the Muse of Forgiveness.
Alexander McCall Smith

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Alexander McCall Smith - The Kalahari Typing School for Men

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