Tea Time for the Traditionally Built – Alexander McCall Smith

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// Tea Time for the Traditionally Built by Alexander McCall Smith is the tenth in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and while not a page-turner like books by Grisham or Child, it provides a mellow change from other, more frenetic mysteries. 

Sitting down with Precious Ramotswe is like sitting down to tea with a good friend.  There’s philosophy, there’s human foibles, there’s humor, there’s national pride and there’s love, a whole lot of love, be it for a little white van or for a country or for a man. 

The mysteries in this series are never ones concerning blood and guts, which makes for a nice break.  The mystery in this particular book concerns why a soccer team isn’t winning as it should.  Is someone throwing the games?

The other mysteries are about whether or not Mma Ramotswe will let her van go or whether Grace Makutsi will fight to keep her man.

We had a good turnout for our meeting and enjoyed treats and tea.  Diets and diabetes were tossed aside in favor of ginger snaps, sugar cookies and meringue decadence puffs.

A lively discussion about our book followed.  Some didn’t really enjoy it, finding the pace and story slow and boring, but others thought it was good and savored the author’s characters and settings. 

An discussion about the pronunciation of names and the formality of addressing other people followed.  Pam had heard an audio version of another in the series, so she was able to advise us that “Mma” is pronounced with a long-ish “m” sound.  “Rra” was a long-ish “r” sound.  Phuti Radiphuti was more “pootie”.  It’s rather amusing how when you’re reading to yourself, you just see a word and recognize it as being that, but then when you have to pronounce it during a book club discussion, your tongue stumbles all over it.  Setswana, Italian, Russian – they’re all a challenge!

We also talked about how Precious is not just a detective, but she’s also a Dear Abby-type of person, giving advice about how a situation should be handled, be it a woman with two or three “husbands” or a football team owner who doesn’t listen to anyone.

Pam had seen a show on “House Hunters” that had been set in Botswana and she said that it seemed to be very much as described in the book, with dirt streets and nothing terribly deluxe.  We talked about class differences and cultural differences and the British and the tribal influence.  Is Botswana a matriarchal society, or is it just the job of the women to nurture the generations and pass the stories on?

Precious was declared to be loyal, be it to a person or to a small white van and we loved the Violet Sephotho storyline. 

Our next book is “The Cat Who Brought Down the House” by Lillian Braun Jackson who died this past year.

Flying Finish – Dick Francis

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I picked this book for our group to read because in the time since I last read it, however many years ago, the ending has always stuck with me.  Not necessarily the details of the ending, but the excitement of it.  And on this rereading, I found that the excitement was still there.  Whew!

The group enjoyed this book, even if it was dated.  Published in 1967, there’s none of that cell phone, internet stuff and we learned from one of our members that horses are still shipped by air. 

There was a big discussion about the place of romance in mystery stories.  Agatha Christie was against having a romantic subplot, but in Flying Finish, a love interest was crucial to Henry Grey’s development as a character.  Until he met Gabriela, he was a gray man, very one-dimensional, though his ability to juggle multiple aspects of his life without one area knowing about the other was pretty intriguing.  The romantic part of the story made Henry blossom and become more rounded, Gabriela giving him a reason to live whereas prior to that, he seemed to almost have a death wish.  Riding horses, flying planes, running away from the debutantes that his mother threw at him.

Billy was declared to be the most awful character, which was no surprise, seeing as how he was a sociopath and all.  But Yardman was equally bad, just because it wasn’t so obvious.

Pam found the beginning of the story slow going, but that could be because current mysteries have a much faster pace.  This was no Lee Child.

Then began the discussion of the relative intelligence of horses, llamas, cats and dogs which soon spiraled out of control.

I neglected to ask Pam for her picks but I would like to recommend Janet Evanovich’s new one, Explosive Eighteen.  It’s no Dick Francis but Stephanie Plum is always entertaining.

Next month, we’ll be having treats at our meeting.  Possibly something African?