Book Review - The Miracle at Speedy Motors

by terry mathews - news-telegram arts editor

The Miracle at Speedy Motors

By Alexander McCall Smith

Pantheon. $22.95. 224 pp. April 15.

Normally, it's hard to find fault with Alexander McCall Smith's lovely books about Precious Ramotswe, the "traditionally built" proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and "Botswana's foremost solver of problems," but his latest offering lacks an editorial presence and some of the plot simply does not fit in the story's framework.

As with many best selling authors, it seems once they reach McCall Smith's status, editors toss the writing rule book out the window.

For instance, in "The Miracle at Speedy Motors," McCall Smith really runs amok with the use of unnecessary "that". When arbitrarily stuck into a sentence, "that" is like a pause button to the reader. It becomes tiresome after only a few pages.

A sentence like:

"You said that you hoped that I would be able to trace some family members for you."

loses no meaning without the two unnecessary 'thats'.

"You said you hoped I would be able to trace some family members for you."

Another example:

"She had assumed that this was the livery of the Double Comfort Furniture Shop, but had been told that it was not, that Phuti himself had painted it as a decoration."

"She had assumed this was the livery of the Double Comfort Furniture Shop, but had been told it was not; Phuti himself had painted it as a decoration."

Sticking "that"in anywhere is an easy habit for authors to acquire. It's the editor's job, however, to clean them out of a final draft.

While the editing here leaves a lot to be desired, McCall Smith uses his gifts as a storyteller to weave another charming tale from dusty Botswana, even if it does come up a little short of his usual offerings..

The plot asks three interesting questions: (1) Will Mma Ramotswe find a client's long-lost family members; (2) How will the issue of a ruined bed play out between Mma Makutsi (Mma Ramotswe's able assitant) and her fianc Phuti Radiphuti; and (3) Will Motholeli (Mma Ramotswe and her husband Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's adopted daughter) ever walk again?

There's a fourth red herring tossed into the mix, but it doesn't really belong, nor does its conclusion really matter. Again, a good editor would have red-lined it out of the story altogether.

While the mysteries aren't particularly compelling, they do push the story along. What makes McCall Smith's books so charming are his warm, caring characters, their respect for each other and the love they have for their homeland.

Getting to know Precious Ramotswe and her friends is not a quick trip on an amusement park ride. It's more like a leisurely stroll around the tidal basin in Washington, D.C., during cherry blossom time. You'll want to savor every moment.

If you're new to this series, read the other eight books first. If you read this one without getting to know the characters and their relationship to one another, you might not pick up the others ... and that would be a shame, because the sweet, gentle series is well worth your time.

***

HBO recently completed filming the first of several specials based on McCall Smith's series. Can't wait to see jazz singer Jill Scott, a "traditionally built" woman herself, in the title role. McCall Smith visited the set and said he was "most pleased" with Scott's casting and performance.

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