BOOK REVIEWS: Alexander THE GREAT; THE KALAHARI TYPING SCHOOL FOR MEN BY ALEXANDER McCALL SMITH (Abacus, Pounds 6.99) HHHH
Byline: ANDREA HENRY
Take a look at the paperback fiction charts and you'll see the name of Zimbabwean-born Scots author Alexander McCall Smith riding high. As a 55-year-old professor of medical law, McCall Smith is not the obvious candidate to be the bestselling author of the feel-good No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels.
These gentle stories from everyday Botswana are a dazzling example of word-of-mouth buzz winning out over money-guzzling publicity campaigns. They've now notched up a million sales across the series since last June, when TimeWarner whisked him away from a smaller publisher and sales started to soar.
Watch out for the forthcoming film version from Anthony Minghella and Sidney Pollack.
McCall Smith's heroines, Precious Ramotswe and her sidekick Mma Makutsi, run the only detective agency in town, indeed, in the country.
Mma Ramotswe, resigned to never finding love again, is enjoying being engaged to the reliable and kind Mr JLB Matakoni - always referred to in full - and eagerly anticipating setting a wedding date. If her fiance has one flaw it's having not discussed the fostering and adoption of the two orphans who now share Mma Ramotswe's home. Life is a struggle, but life is good. Mr JLB Matakoni has come through his depression and the agency has joined financial forces with Mr JLB Matakoni's garage.
But this fourth novel in the series is, loosely, about how things go wrong.
Mma Makutsi, despite her exemplary typing credentials, is in need of a husband. Mma Ramotswe's children are going through a bad patch: the girl is being bullied at school; the boy has started playing up. And to cap it all the agency has a rival.
The Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency has opened up. Not only is business under threat, but Mma Makutsi is fed up being the lackey. …