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April 26, 2004 | by  | in Books | [ssba]

Morality for Beautiful Girls

The third in McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Morality sees Mma Ramotswe’s life becoming yet more complicated. Mr J L B Matekoni is suffering from some manner of malaise and needs to take time out from Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. The Agency has found itself in financial straights, so the decision to share the mechanic’s offices is taken, and the ladies also take over the running of the garage while J L B gets himself back on track.

Having loved, loved, loved the first 2 books in the series, and waxed rhapsodic about them to anyone who’d listen, I felt just a scooch let down by Beautiful Girls. The titular idea is carried through a storyline to do with the behaviour of delegates in a beauty pageant, however it permeates the entire novel, examining the actions of people at all points on the attractive scale; first looking at whether beautiful people are more likely to act a certain way, and then whether they get away with it more easily because of their good looks. As usual, McCall Smith’s treatment is light, giving the illusion of simplicity, while in actual fact bringing a degree of sophistication to the idea, that you can’t get with sledgehammer symbolism. However, he tried to do too much this time – with plots running all over the place, resolution on many of them tipped over the fine line of minimalism walked in the first two books, into what were just vaguely unsatisfactory conclusions in this instalment.

Vaguely unsatisfactory is about as bad as it gets with this guy, though, and if not quite measuring up to two outstanding novels is the worst criticism one can level, he can’t be doing too badly. Still highly recommended, with perhaps slightly more realistic expectations this time.


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