“That fear was something that was always with you in the bush, and it was only the foolhardy who would ignore it. There were things that it was perfectly right to be scared of – because they were, in themselves, frightening things. Some of them you could see, others were not so visible; some you could hear; others you sensed in some other, indefinable way.”
The House of Unexpected Sisters is the eighteenth full-length novel in the popular No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Scottish author, Alexander McCall Smith. A possible case of unfair dismissal at an office furniture store is the main case under investigation in this instalment. It seems the Agency will be doing this pro bono, and when Mma Makutsi takes the lead, she bestows a new title upon herself: Principal Investigating Officer.
Wary of Grace’s somewhat bombastic approach, Mma Ramotswe decides to run a parallel investigation, during which she accidentally learns of a hitherto unknown Ramotswe and wonders if she is related. When the case information is reviewed, it turns out that different versions of events have been related to different investigators.
Mr Polopetsi has also garnered some disturbing facts he must selectively reveal. He and Mma Makutsi are shocked to observe a certain woman during their covert surveillance: could the terrible Violet Sepotho really have a hand in all this? And then Mma Potokwani adds to her worries when she reveals that Note Mokoti, Mma Ramotswe’s physically abusive ex-husband is back in Gabarone.
As always, McCall Smith gives his characters sage words and perceptive observations. On silent men “Yes, all women know those men. The men who think women will think ‘Here is a man who is thinking deep, strong thoughts’, but in fact, Mma, those men are not really thinking about anything at all.” The Agency’s work is succinctly described thus: “Small facts, big facts; looking here, looking there; listening to what the wind is saying.”
And Mr J.L.B. Matekoni’s feelings of inadequacy are perfectly described: “She had said that her heart was broken and he felt powerless to do anything about it. It seemed to him that she did not want to admit him into her sorrow, and he, being a mere mechanic, did not have the words to ask her to let him in on it. That was the problem, he felt: when words were handed out to the various callings by which people lived, all the words were taken by politicians and lawyers and the clever accountants, and not many left for people like him – the mechanics and the farmers.”
As he explores topics as varied as people we put on pedestals and the importance of matrons, not to mention the relationship of blood group to personality, McCall Smith once again gives the reader a novel that has humour and wisdom and heartfelt emotion. Delightfully entertaining.
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