To the Land of Long Lost Friends is the latest #1 Ladies Detective Agency novel.

To the Land of Long Lost Friends is the twentieth book in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series and the first one that has disappointed me. The local color is there, of course. The charm is present throughout. But the narrative drive that carried me through all the earlier stories is lacking. Alexander McCall Smith has long had the habit of leading his characters off into conversational cul-de-sacs; that’s been the source of much of the series’s charm. But he has overdone it in this book.

The #1 Ladies Detective Agency takes on a bundle of cases

As usual, there are several narrative threads here. Mma Ramotswe is convinced a client is mistaken that her husband has been having an affair, but Mma Makutsi disagrees—vociferously, as always. A wealthy old friend of Mma Ramotswe’s has gone broke because she has become involved with a charismatic lay preacher who runs what he calls the Church of Christ, Mechanic. And Mma Ramotswe is distressed to learn that the daughter of an old friend from her hometown rejected her mother’s friendship. Meanwhile, apprentice detective Charlie is frantic that the woman he has been dating wants to get married even though Charlie is broke and can’t possibly pay the bride price.

To the Land of Long Lost Friends (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency #20) by Alexander McCall Smith (2019) 240 pages ★★★☆☆

In the earlier entries in the series, this collection of plotlines would have been more than sufficient to fill the pages of a novel. In fact, it could have justified at least two. Here, though, McCall Smith spends relatively little time elaborating and resolving these threads of the story. He devotes far more time and space in digressions about . . . well, just about everything that seems to come into the minds of his characters. And sometimes those digressions go on for pages. The #1 Ladies Detective Agency is, after all, a detective agency. I would have expected a lot more detecting.

Too bad. I love this series. I hope McCall Smith hasn’t run out of steam.

For additional reading

I’ve reviewed seven of the previous novels in this series, beginning with number 12, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party (Lessons in life from the #1 Ladies’ Detectives) and number 13, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection (An exceptional tale of Botswana’s #1 Ladies’ Detective Agency). Oh, and I read all the previous books in the series before I began writing these reviews.

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