The Handsome Man’s DeLuxe Cafe, by Alexander McCall Smith *****

thehandsomemansWithin the genre of the cozy mystery, this long-running series by Alexander McCall Smith reigns supreme. The magic is as much due to the cast of engaging secondary characters as it is to Precious Ramotswe herself. The Handsome Man’s DeLuxe Cafe is no exception. It comes out October 28; thanks to the publisher and edelweiss books for the chance to read and review it.

On the very first page, Mr. JLB Matekoni entered and I smiled. I don’t mean inwardly; I mean my face broadened into the kind of contented crease that lowers our blood pressure and would, were we cats and not people, cause us to purr. I snuggled deeper into my blankets and got ready for a splendid evening. And another. And another.

Smith creates each new entry in his series by either adding a new setting to Gabarone, where our protagonist lives and works, or by bringing in new people, and often, as here, he does both. And often he sets up two different problems, one a professional challenge for the #1 Ladies Detective Agency, and another a personal crisis for someone among the regular cast of characters. Sometimes the two dovetail neatly at the end, but he doesn’t do this all the time, lest the result become formulaic and lose its magic. And in this instance, having become momentarily guarded by a silly story that was a little over the top rather than charming (the lion story), I was therefore watching to see whether the problem regarding Mma Makutsi’s cafe would be resolved within the amnesia-client’s family.

But our writer didn’t do that. And this is why the series is so successful.

One more skillful and enjoyable protocol of Smith’s is that he introduces recurring characters very briefly, and it never jars the faithful reader who has gone through the entire series into wanting to say, “Oh, come on, come on, I know this already.” Rather, he injects it naturally into the narrative so that the familiar reader will nod happily and think, ‘Oh yes, I do remember. So dear Mma Potokwane is still at it, isn’t she? And it’s true. She does have a remarkable work ethic.’

Violet is in danger of becoming too great a stereotypic anti-hero, but it hasn’t happened yet. The author could just choose to drop her, but his habit is to continually point to the common humanity of all, and it wouldn’t surprise me if Violet were to have perhaps just one decent moment before being returned to her regular place as the exception-to-basic-goodness-among-us-all. But that is conjecture.

I read 6 to 8 books at a go, and yet, having quickly absorbed this delightful mystery, I am already anticipating the next in the series. This, ultimately, is the mark of entertaining literature.

My thanks to edelweiss review copies for the opportunity to advance-read and review this delightful story.

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