three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
23-July-Aug-2006
user_rating: 
0

The New Novel in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series

A-BlueShoesAndHappinessThe seventh installment of the Botswana detective agency series (after In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, 4 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2005) shows modernity sniping at the heels of tradition. This time, a dishonest doctor, the theft of food from a cafeteria, and a mysterious cobra that appears in Mma Ramotswe’s office provide the backdrop for the real action: Mma Ramotswe resolves to improve her traditional figure and forgo sugary doughnuts; her mechanic husband, J. L. B. Matekoni, goes behind her back; and Grace Makutsi’s fiancé may have second thoughts. Then, of course, there’s the enticing pair of pointy-toed blue shoes. Will Mma Makutsi sacrifice comfort for fashion? A warm drink just might hold such problems at bay.
Pantheon. 240 pages. $21.95. ISBN: 0375422722

NY Times Book Review 4 of 5 Stars
"Of course, even the most stable detectives in rock-solid series are allowed to stretch and grow. … In fact, watching a hero develop over time is one of the pleasures of sticking with a good series." Marilyn Stasio

Boston Globe 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Escapist in both senses, these books let us into a world where even the worst problems are usually resolvable and most are as minor as, say, a fight with a fiancé or the question of whether to lose weight. That said, Blue Shoes and Happiness … does start off slow." Clea Simon

Columbus Dispatch 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Throughout all this activity, Smith weaves his standard themes: the love of the African landscape and pleasant traditions such as sipping red bush tea on a quiet porch. … Blue Shoes and Happiness is at once a humble and ambitious title and emblematic of Smith’s accomplishment with these sweet, unassuming tales." Nancy Gilson

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[N]ot much happens outwardly. … Of greater import are the events inside the head of Mma Makutsi (the detective’s assistant, who remains as insightful as ever) and in the lives of the book’s characters." Adam Woog

Sunday Times [UK] 3.5 of 5 Stars
"I can see why people could become addicted: the formula is nicely esoteric—a setting that features outfits such as Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, the Double Comfort Furniture Shop and the Kalahari Typing School for Men, beguiling characters, and an atmosphere of wry good humour. … I’m not sure I shall be joining the cult, but temporary membership was no penance." Penelope Lively

USA Today 3.5 of 5 Stars
"What’s slightly surprising in Blue Shoes is that Smith has thrown some very modern topics at the humble cast of characters. Feminism, for example, threatens the impending marriage of Mma Makutsi to furniture store owner and stutterer Phuti Radiphuti. And—gasp!—Ramotswe goes on a diet." Ann Oldenburg

Critical Summary

Scotsman author Alexander McCall Smith’s series has enchanted readers all over the world with its warmth, simple truths, dry humor, and depictions of life in Botswana. This newest addition doesn’t disappoint. Penelope Lively, a neophyte to the series, praised the book for an "Africa made accessible" and for "beguiling" characters. If the plot moves a little slowly and the mysteries seem somewhat odd, it’s because the novel focuses on human relations (this time we come to know Mma Makutsi intimately) and daily life at the agency. A few critics noted that Smith embarked into uncharted territory by exploring modern themes and gender relations. They concluded, however, that this slant did nothing to harm the novel.