Cover image of "The Double Comfort Safari Club," a novel about two African detectives who are women

For any reader looking for respite from the unrelenting violence of the world we live in, The Double Comfort Safari Club is a worthy antidote. It’s nominally a novel about two African detectives who are women, but author Alexander McCall Smith’s subject is Africa as he knows it. The characters in this novel “. . . talked about all sorts of things . . .: about weddings and children and money. About cattle. About jealousy and envy and love. About cakes. About friends and enemies and people they remembered who had gone away, or changed, or even died. About everything, really.”

African detectives, celebrating the old ways

“About everything,” indeed. The #1 Ladies Detective Agency Series is less a collection of detective stories than a continuing portrait of a worldview unfamiliar to most North Americans. Mma (“Ms.”) Precious Ramotswe, founder and proprietor of the agency, and her sidekick, Grace Makutsi, exemplify an idealized view of the culture of Botswana, an island of peace and stability in a neighborhood that includes South Africa, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. In their speech and their internal dialogue, Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi, as well as virtually every other major character in the series, manifest the kindness and slow-moving rhythms of their remarkable country.

The Double Comfort Safari Club (#1 Ladies Detective Agency #11) by Alexander McCall Smith (2010) 225 pages ★★★★★ 

Photo of actresses playing the two #1 Ladies Detectives on television, the African detectives who are women
Jill Smith as Mma Precious Ramotswe and Anika Noni Rose as Mma Grace Makutsi in the short-lived HBO television series based on McCall Smith’s novels. Image: HelloGiggles

A novel that abounds in gentle humor

Consider this example of interior dialogue:

“Mma Makutsi was not certain that floating could be called a sport. Was there a Botswana floating team? She thought not. What would such a team do? Would they have to float gently from one point to another, with the winner being the one who arrived first? Surely not.”

Even the villain’s crime is merely stealing husbands

This twelfth installment in the magnificent #1 Ladies Detective Agency Series is worthy of its predecessors in every way. Like its forbears, The Double Comfort Safari Club revolves around several intersecting plotlines. An American estate lawyer has asked Mma Ramotswe to track down a nameless guide at a safari camp who has been granted a generous bequest by a former client. Mma Makutsi’s fiancee, Phuti Radiphuti, loses a foot in a tragic accident at his furniture store, precipitating a standoff between Mma Makutsi and his nasty “senior aunt.”

Meanwhile, Mma Makutsi’s nemesis, the beautiful but unscrupulous Violet Sephotho, has victimized another unsuspecting man. He has come to Mma Ramotswe for help. And a female friend asks Mma Ramotswe to confirm her suspicion that her husband, a “part-time minister” and radio evangelist, is having an affair. Complications ensue in every one of these unfolding stories—and every one of them is satisfactorily resolved by the redoubtable Mma Ramotswe, that bottomless well of understanding and humankindness.

About the author

Photo of Alexander McCall Smith, author of this novel about two African detectives who are women
Alexander McCall Smith. Image: Graham Clark

The author, Alexander McCall Smith, is an extraordinarily prolific writer with at least 117 novels published to date. In addition to the #1 Ladies Detective Agency Series, he continues to write three other series of fictional tales, plus children’s books and short stories—not to mention the many nonfiction articles and 13 books he has written as a widely recognized authority on bioethics and medical law.

McCall Smith is a lawyer who has spent many years teaching at universities in Botswana, Ireland, and Scotland. He was born in 1948 and raised in the country now known as Zimbabwe. His father worked as a public prosecutor in the country’s capital city, Bulawayo. McCall Smith holds LLB and PhD degrees in law from the University of Edinburgh. He and his wife, Elizabeth, a physician, lived in Edinburgh for 30 years, raising two daughters there. Authors J. K. Rowling, Ian Rankin, and Kate Atkinson were neighbors.

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