Morality for beautiful girls

by Alexander McCall Smith

Paper Book, 2001

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Anchor Books, 2002, c2001.

Description

In Morality for Beautiful Girls, Precious Ramotswe, founder and owner of the only detective agency for the concerns of both ladies and others, investigates the alleged poisoning of the brother of an important "Government Man," and the moral character of the four finalists of the Miss Beauty and Integrity Contest, the winner of which will almost certainly be a contestant for the title of Miss Botswana. Yet her business is having money problems, and when other difficulties arise at her fiance's Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, she discovers the reliable Mr J.L.B. Matekoni is more complicated than he seems.

User reviews

LibraryThing member StormRaven
The third installment of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, Morality for Beautiful Girls delves into the thorny issue of mental illness, the vagaries of family relationships, and the fact that even people who pride themselves on being intelligent can still harbor quite foolish ideas. The story also casts some doubt on the morality of "traditional Botswanan morality", at least insofar as it is applied by Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi.

The main plot element of this book is neither of the two mysteries that inhabit its pages. Rather, the primary plot involves the relationship between Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, and how it is affected by Matekoni's struggle with depression. Despite this story line centering almost entirely upon him, Matekoni almost doesn't appear in it, showing up in only a few scenes, and some of those he is merely the voice on the other end of a telephone conversation. But as he is afflicted with depression, this seems entirely fitting, as this is a disease that effectively erases people from their own lives. And Mma Ramotswe responds to this behavior by Matekoni with affection and understanding, even though it is clearly outside of her experience. She visits a doctor to find out what could be wrong, gets a book to try to understand this new and disconcerting disease in her life, and works to try to get Matekoni treatment even though he resists. The book could be criticized for making the treatment of depression seem too easy, but that seems like an unfair criticism given that the author took the issue on in such a respectful way to begin with.

The illness of Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni does allow for some substantial character development for Mma Makutsi. Already promoted to assistant detective in Tears of the Giraffe, Makutsi is thrust into the position of assistant manager of the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors in conjunction with the move of the detective agency to the garage's offices. Despite her lack of knowledge about automobiles and inability to drive, Mma Makutsi puts the administrative and organizational skills that earned her the oft-mentioned score of 97% at the Botswana Secretarial College to good use, identifying and paying required bills, arranging to get parts delivered from suppliers, and getting the apprentices at the garage to actually work. And soon it becomes clear that Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's frequently noted kindness may be more of a liability than one would think, as it seems to be the root cause of the laziness of his two apprentices and the various other problems that seem to have afflicted the garage such as the lack of parts delivery and the petrol supplier's lackadaisical attitude towards keeping the Tlokweng Road's fuel pumps supplied. Under Mma Makutsi's direction, the garage seems to turn all of these problems around, revealing that while it is clear that Matekoni is a superlative mechanic, he has some serious shortcomings as a businessman.

But alongside the everyday stories of the ordinary lives of the characters there are the mysteries. After all, this is a mystery novel, so one would expect that these story lines would be in the book. The primary mystery is handled by Precious Ramotswe, and involves a highly placed government official who is also connected the leadership of the parallel tribal hierarchy that exists in Botswana. This almost dual government that exists in many African nations has been lurking on the outskirts of previous books, but in Morality for Beautiful Girls it comes to the fore in the form of the "government man" (who is never more specifically identified in the book). He has a much younger brother that he says he loves very much, but who has married a woman he believes is trying to poison her husband. After first protesting that such a serious matter should be reported to the police, Mma Ramotswe agrees to go to the large and prosperous farm where the government man's family lives and investigate to find out if his suspicions about his sister-in-law are true. Once there, Mma Ramostwe uncovers the truth using her usual method of paying close attention to the people around her, and treating the staff and servants with respect and getting them to divulge the things they have seen to her. And as usual, the truth isn't quite what anyone thought it would be.

While Mma Ramotswe is away solving her case, Mma Makutsi is required to deal with a case of her own involving the selection of a winner for the Miss Beauty and Integrity contest. After being approached by the organizer of the contest, Mma Makutsi undertakes to make a moral evaluation of the four finalists to ensure that none of them have skeletons in their closet or propensities to behavior that would embarrass the contest should they win, with an implication that Mma Makutsi should pick the "correct" winner and the organizer will make sure she emerges victorious. Though Mma Makutsi seems to stumble to the "correct" answer, her handling of the case reveals that being practical and hard working is no defense against prejudice and pseudoscience, and "Botswanan morality" may not be as benign as the reader had been told in the previous two books. After settling on the possibility the phrenology would help her determine which contestants are "good" girls, Mma Makutsi is foiled by the fact that she can't see the exact shape of their heads due to their hair and has to fall back on her alternative of having them fill out a questionnaire using the ruse of being a newspaper reporter. Though the case reveals Mma Makutsi's ingrained prejudice against the kinds of women she decries as "bad" girls, and her investigation is almost farcical at times, she has the good fortune to find a candidate who we are meant to see as clearly being deserving of victory in the contest, and she is able to make a recommendation to her client.

The core theme of Morality for Beautiful Girls is the intersection of Botswanan culture and morality with the modern world, and how that intersection can find them serving complimentary roles, or find them coming into conflict. Despite the repeated praises bestowed by Mma Ramotswe on traditional Botswanan morality (which seems to encompass Botswanan culture as well), when Mma Makutsi finds herself investigating on her own, the somewhat darker and off-handedly judgmental side of Botswanan morality is revealed. The book also contains an interesting subplot involving a feral child found in the wilderness and transported to Mma Potokwane's orphan farm, but this seems to lead nowhere, left as a mystery to be solved in the future, if ever. The novel shines the most when it brings the African landscape into the story as an often foreboding but sometimes loving character, setting the doings of the book's human characters against its starkly beautiful vista. In the end, this novel, like the others in the series, is a gentle stroll through the ordinary lives of ordinary Africans trying to make their way in a dry and often uncompromising land.
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LibraryThing member 1morechapter
I refuse to apologize for completely loving this series. Pure, delightful, light-hearted fun. This one does have some serious subjects to it, but what I enjoy most about this series is that everything always turns out okay in the end. With all the heavy reading I do, it’s nice to be able to ‘take a breather’ with the characters of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.

In Morality for Beautiful Girls, the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency faces a bit of a money crunch and considers relocating to J.L.B. Matekoni’s garage. Meanwhile, some creative double duty assignments are also given to Mma Makutsi. Precious Ramotswe takes on a case of an important government official who believes his brother is being poisoned, and Mma Makutsi does an investigation for a beauty pageant official. I found this latter case to be absolutely hysterical. It actually bumped up the rating from a 4 to a 4.5.

I listened to this installment on audio CD and loved the narrator, Lisette Lecat, who was also the narrator for Purple Hibiscus. I plan on reading and/or listening to the entire series this year and am absolutely looking forward to it.

2001, 227 pp.

4.5/5
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LibraryThing member Snukes
I enjoy these books very much. They're not great mysteries, but they're wonderful pictures of a culture that is very foreign to me.
LibraryThing member Smiler69
I’ve been enjoying this series so far which provides highly likeable characters, a bit of intrigue and a trip to Africa without the expense or the actual travel. In the Botsawan of Mma Ramotswe, it seems that everything can be overcome with a bit of common sense, good observational skills, and above all, good old fashioned manners. If only it were so, in Africa or anywhere else! Not my favourite book so far, or maybe I'm tiring of the formula already? I guess I’ll have to read the fourth book to find out...… (more)
LibraryThing member nmaloney
I like this series for quick, fun reading. Definately a book series to bring on vacation.
LibraryThing member booksbooks11
Another wonderful story by McCall Smith, it wraps its way around your heart like a big warm fluffy jumper. I hate to get to the end of every one of his books, can't wait for the next installment. I have rated it four just because this isn't a book that is going to really change your life or open your mind to a whole new way of thinking. It's just a lovely warm hearted story that you feel so intimately connected to that you won't want to put it down.… (more)
LibraryThing member reading_fox
Continuing stories in the life of Precious. Her fiancee, becomes depressed, and several tricky cases arrive at once. Fortunetly Mma Makutsi is capable at ordering the aprentices around. More social commentry on the differenes between men and women - astutely picked up on from a male author.

The continued assult on more generously sized people by thin people is also worthy of mention severla times. In the end all these stories are about the love of Africa and the importance of rain.

Pula, Pula, Pula.
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LibraryThing member happyfox
It was a happy accident that I first encountered Precious Ramotswe and I can't get enough of this down to earth, delightful gentle woman.
LibraryThing member johnthefireman
Another beautiful book about the best of African culture and life.
LibraryThing member alanna1122
I love this series. Sweet - gentle and as comforting as a warm soft blanket.
LibraryThing member MrsLee
These stories grow on you, they remind me somehow of The Mitford Series by Jan Karon, only simpler.
LibraryThing member euang
Hard to read without smiling!: This third book in the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series continues the story of the fun characters created in the first two.It is full of gentle stories of African life and peppered with simple sentences that I can't help smiling when reading. One conversation between a woman and the main character Precious Ramotswe has the woman observing: "You're very lucky to be marrying a man who can fix things, most husbands only break things".
If you're looking for something different from the first two, then don't buy this book. But if you enjoyed the first two and you'd like more of the same, gentle story telling setting in a very different setting to most novels, then this book is for you.
I'm off to read the next in the series!
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LibraryThing member lindaholland
Business as usual for this series. Drifts to an end rather than concludes. An enjoyable escapist read.
LibraryThing member riverwillow
Like the others in the series this is a deceptively gentle read. I love how, just in real life, the character slowly reveal themselves to the reader.
LibraryThing member jepeters333
Between intriguing new cases and troubling personal develpments, Precious' hands are full. She personally investigates the claim of an important government worker, who suspects his brother is being poisoned. Meanwhile, assistant detective Mma Makutsi explores the moral fiber of four beauty pageant contestants. On top of all this, Precious' reliable fiance finally shows a crack in his armor. This series is great - likable characters, interesting stories - and the CD's are beautifully narrated by Lisette Lecat.… (more)
LibraryThing member jellyish
I've always loved books where the characters develope into better people by the end. Also, Botswana is a great background for a book. I did this one on "books on tape" which added to the pleasure.
LibraryThing member bibliophile26
More from the No. 1 Ladies Detective Series. Enjoyable as always.
LibraryThing member Figgles
Nice read, more of the same but who can argue with a gentle story of compassion and love?
LibraryThing member seoulful
Once more we are given the pleasure of getting inside the minds of an interesting array of citizens of Botswana as they consider not only the passing scene, but also the deeper issues of life in general. The ladies of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency are called upon to deal with unusual cases reflective of the culture of Botswana. We see the two ladies using their considerable intelligence as well as their cultural savvy to solve the often delicate problems. Moral dilemmas are the order of the day in Alexander McCall's books and he uses a common sense approach in his deliberations of issues. Forinstance there is an interesting discussion on procrastintion in this book. Mma Ramotswe discusses with a friend that procrastination is not a good thing, but the problem was that even if you knew what to do, you don't choose to do it. "It is as if there were two people inside you. One says do this and one says do that. But both voices are inside the same person," said Mma Ramotswe. All is written with gentle humor and outstanding character development.… (more)
LibraryThing member OzzieJello
All the books in this series are a delight. I read all of them straight through, one after the other, stopping only because I'm waiting for my copy of "The Good Husband of Zebra Drive" to arrive. If it were possible to actually spend some time with the main characters, it would be a pleasure. I'd even try redbush tea.
LibraryThing member Blakelyn
While I loved the first two books in this series, I must admit that I was a bit disappointed in the third. There didn't seem to be an overall story to tie the book together. I liked it enough to continue reading the series, so I hope book 4 picks back up again.
LibraryThing member ffortsa
Number 3 in the series, in which Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni suffers a setback and Precious Ramotswe solves more mysteries, and some money problems of her own.
LibraryThing member herbcat
More of the lovable and wise Mma. Ramotswe, a remarkable Botawani woman, who hires a remarkable assistant. Touches on so much of life.
LibraryThing member chmessing
This is a fun series - I like each one better than the last because you feel like you really know the main characters and really root for them. This one has a funny ending and a lot more about Mma Grace Makutsi. I plan to read them all...
LibraryThing member janglen
OK, nothing much happens and some of the story lines are thin, but the people are all so human and graspable that you can't help loving the series.

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