Blue Shoes and Happiness (2007)

by Alexander McCall Smith

Perhaps it's a stretch to call Alexander McCall  Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series literary fiction, but the novels also seem miscategorized in the mystery genre. For one thing, seat-of-the-pants suspense isn't their attraction; the detectives admit they have slow days and generally don't investigate anything major. In Blue Shoes and Happiness, there are no dead bodies, and while blackmail, medical fraud, and theft of food are investigated, no lives are at risk, and the cases are dispatched quietly.

These extraordinarily popular novels are loved for their characters and their universal wisdom about life — which, come to think of it, are strengths of literary fiction. The detectives at the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Botswana are shrewd but kind owner Precious Ramotswe and her harder-edged assistant, Grace Makutsi. Mma's Makutsi's relationship with her fiance, Phuti Radiphuti, figures as much in Blue Shoes and Happiness as any of the investigations. Did she scare him away by saying she's a feminist? Considerable attention is also given to the weight of "traditionally built" Mma Ramotswe and to the purchase of a plush new chair by her husband, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni,  and of fashionable but uncomfortable new shoes by Mma Makutsi.  

Smith, a Scotsman, has a remarkable ability to depict the beauty, the people, and the culture of Africa for a curious but ill-informed world. Blue Shoes and Happiness is the sixth book in the series.

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