Cover image of "The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party," offering lessons in life from the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

Join Precious Ramotswe, proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, for the weeks that elapse in this charming tale of life in Botswana, and you may emerge with valuable lessons in life. Mma Ramotswe — the prefix is a title akin to “Ms.” — and those who surround her live their lives in a slow and steady way that would be familiar to village-based people everywhere but alien to those of us who populate the world’s fast-paced urban centers.

Mma Ramotswe’s Botswana is a nation displaced from the passage of time as we experience it. Botswana today is one of the world’s fastest-growing nations, an efficiently governed country that has raised its GDP per capital from $70 in 1966, when it gained independence from Britain, to $14,800 in 2010. There is no hint of this dynamism in The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, which harkens back to an age before the Internet, before mobile phones, before American, European, and Indian films — in short, before all the trappings of today’s reality that are inescapable in all but the most resolutely isolated countries in the world today. This is a celebration of the Africa that never was.

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency #12) by Alexander McCall Smith ★★★★★ 

In this novel, as in its predecessors in the celebrated No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Mma Ramotswe’s world is circumscribed by a stable cast of characters who play roles in all her various cases: her husband, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, “the best mechanic in all Botswana,” and his two young apprentices, Charlie and Fanwell; her socially inept sidekick, Grace Makutsi, who never lets anyone forget she achieved “97 per cent” on her final exam at the Botswana Secretarial College; Grace’s nemesis, Violet Sephotho, a glamorous, man-hungry ne’er-do-well; Grace’s fiance, Phuti Radiphuti, the well-to-do owner of a furniture store; and Mma Potokwane, who manages the orphan farm and the lives of anyone else who comes into her orbit.

All these characters play their assigned roles as Mma Ramotswe sets out to solve the latest mystery — the murder of two cows under the dead of night at a remote rural cattle post — all the while she pursues the ghost of a beloved tiny white van, confronts the accusation that Charlie has fathered twins but refuses to acknowledge them, and helps Grace prepare for her wedding. Each of these plotlines is fraught with anxiety and yields up a surprise, but it all comes out just fine in the end, as always.

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party is the 12th in Alexander McCall Smith‘s series of novels about The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, his best-known work in fiction. However, this is just one among four other series of novels plus a much longer list of children’s books. And his work in fiction pales against his professional career as an expert in forensic law and bioethics and a respected university lecturer in both Scotland and Botswana. In addition to his numerous works of fiction, he has authored or coauthored a dozen nonfiction books on medicine, the law, and other topics.

I’ve reviewed many other books in this series, including:

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