Alexander McCall Smith said at the literary event I attended recently that if he achieves nothing else in his life he is glad he introduced the concept “traditionally built” because it has brought such comfort to many women (particularly, he says with a twinkle in his eye, in America!).
Tea time for the traditionally built is the tenth book in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series – which is not a bad achievement for an idea that started out as a short story! The eleventh in the series, The Double Comfort Safari Club, is now out (in Australia at least) and McCall Smith has no plans yet to finish the series. When you’re on a good thing …
I am not, as I said in my recent post on McCall Smith, normally a reader of series, but I have made an exception for this series and forgive it the things that would normally make me steer clear of books like this, such as simple language and repetition of theme, because, well, because it is gentle and generous. Generosity is, in fact, an important quality for McCall Smith. At the talk I attended he said that he rarely based his characters on real people because that would be “an abuse of authorial role”! Tell Truman Capote that! When he does draw on real people, he said, it is to paint that person in a positive light. One such example is Mma Potokwani, matron of the Orphanage that features in the Detective Agency series, who is clearly a woman he admires.
Anyhow, onto Tea time. It’s a gentle read – with the plot this time focusing on a football team that is suddenly losing every game after having been consistently successful. The owner, Mr Molofololo (great name eh?), suspects a traitor in the ranks and Mma Ramotswe is, of course, called on to investigate. Suffice it to say that she does and the outcome isn’t quite what Mr M suspected.
I’ll say just one more thing about these books and that is that McCall Smith does create “rounded” characters…even the admirable ones have their flaws and this, I think, gives his books a little depth that can engage, even though the language and style do not offer the challenge than I prefer in my reading. Reading one a year is a nice thing to do – and keeps me in touch with a writer who knows the world has problems but who likes to think that people can be good, and that there is hope yet!
Alexander McCall Smith
Tea time for the traditionally built
London: Abacus, 2009