Posted with permission from The Washington Times

THE HOUSE OF UNEXPECTED SISTERS: NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY

By Alexander McCall Smith

Pantheon, $25.95, 240 pages

She's back! She's back! And Botswana can relax again in the knowledge that Mma Precious Ramotswe is still hard at work solving problems with her unique No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

Alexander McCall Smith is always at this best when he is writing about Mma Ramotswe, and even about her kindly husband Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni who runs a car repair agency and worries about his overalls being too dirty. Not to leave out Mma Grace Makutsi, the co-director of the detective agency who has a passion for shoes and argument that at times makes her the cross Mma Ramotswe has to bear.

Yet they get along surprisingly well solving their neighbors' problems and even coping with the appearance of the previously unknown sister of Mma Ramotswe.

The secret of the book and of course of the author seems to be a patient philosophy. Mr. McCall Smith has a gentle even joyful philosophy of life that imbues his prolific writings and this is personified in the marvelous Mma Ramotswe that "traditionally built' monument to kindness.

She not only sees the best in most people, it is never too hard for her to find it. If Mr. Polopetsi fills his shopping cart with dog food instead of something for his dinner, it must be because he was confused by the pictures of dogs on the cans. Certainly not because he was foolish. It would be unkind to think that.

And when Charity Mompoloki, the sister of the games teacher at the school, and a single mother, loses her job because she snapped at a customer, it wasn't like her and perhaps her boss wanted her out because he was romantically involved with another assistant. Charity's mother breaks the news that her daughter is quite capable of a nasty outburst leaving Mma Ramotswe looking for another reason to excuse bad manners - and finding it in a way that makes Charity remorseful and working again.

J.L. B Maketoni is equally kindhearted, even about the cars he repairs He is convinced that a car has a soul and that is why the Mercedes Benz he is working on is not doing well technically. It's not just the gearbox, it's how the car is treated.

And while Mma Ramotswe is aware that fruit cake contributes to her traditional stature, she also is convinced that a certain special homemade fruit cake takes care of stress.

She does however face a serious problem when she discovers that a lady called Mingie Ramotswe is her sister. And she is very upset when it seems to be the case that Mingie was born when Mma Ramotswe's father was still alive and alas, must have been consorting with someone other than his wife.

Mia Ramotswe is so upset she tells her husband her heart is broken because of this discovery about her father. She is very sad and it is not until she discovers that there is an arithmetical error that can be tracked to the calendar that she and her newly discovered sister can embrace and presumably live happily ever after.

One of the most delightful aspects of Mr. McCall Smith's writing is the happy endings are what he specializes in to the point where his characters are beyond virtuous. This is less true in his African pieces where more humor creeps into the saga of red bush tea than even appears in his Scottish writings.

It would be nearly impossible not to laugh at a discussion with a shoe or a firm belief that a great car has a great soul. But that would fit with Precious' husband. They are truly well matched.

This is perhaps one of the author's most charming books on the topic of Precious Ramotswe, and it is delightful that he is happily churning out what amounts to a library of characters that stretches from Botswana to Scotland.

Muriel Dobbin is a former White House and national political reporter for McClatchy newspapers and the Baltimore Sun.