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    Review of MORALITY FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS by Alexander McCall Smith


    Anchor Books, 2001

    Mma Ramotswe and her assistant, Mma Makutsi have a problem--or rather a series of problems. Thanks to her impending marriage to Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, Mma Ramotswe has a chance to move the office of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, saving money. But even so, the agency is losing too much--and Makutsi would hate to have to let her assistant go. When Mr. J.L.B. Makekoni loses interest in his auto repair shop, Ramotswe sets up Mma Makutsi as assistant manager--but that doesn't deal with the issue of why Makekoni has lost interest in his shop (problem one). Then there's the government man who's convinced that his sister-in-law is trying to poison his brother (problem two). Next, there's a child found with the scent of lion on him, speaking no known language (problem three). Finally, a beauty contest manager comes to the agency with the problem of deciding which of his contestants is least likely to be connected with vice, theft, or other sponsor-offending defects (problem four). Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi definitely have their hands full.

    Author Alexander McCall Smith (see more reviews of novels by Smith) uses an almost fairy-tale touch to tell his story of families, culture clash, and ordinary people in Botswana, Africa. Smith emerges the reader in African urban culture immediately, letting the western reader come across differences and similarities to their own background in a natural and convincing way. His light touch (I especially liked Mma Ramotswe's description of herself as having a 'traditional' figure) adds frequent smiles to the journey.

    MORALITY FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS is not a complex mystery. In particular, I would have liked to see a better integration of the lion-child into the story. It is, however, a charming story of Africa, women trying to make their way in a culture that is quickly changing yet that maintains many of the values of the past, and of simply getting along with one another as they gain deeper insights into people. MORALITY is a quick read--but if you're like me, you'll find yourself thinking about it again and again once you're done.

    Four Stars

    Reviewed 2/23/03

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