When I opened the cover of The Miracle at Speedy Motors, the eighth novel in Alexander McCall Smith's hugely popular #1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series, it was like seeing old friends after being apart. I missed them. I'm glad to know what they have been doing. I don't want them to leave.
If you don't know the series, its chief protagonist is the "traditionally-built" (that is, somewhat overweight) Precious Ramotswe, owner and founder of the #1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Gaborone, the only woman detective in all Botswana. Precious is married to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, owner of the auto repair shop Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, where Mma Ramotswe and her assistant, Mma Makutsi, also have an office. The stories are about the people and problems confronting Mma Ramotswe, as well as the life of Mma Ramotswe, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, and their two adopted children, as well as Mma Makutsi, her fiance, and Charlie, the shop apprentice. If all this sounds unexciting, you'd be right, in a way, and yet none of that matters here. What oozes from these stories is nothing less than a panoply of Christian virtues: love, mercy, respect for others, forgiveness, hope, and plenty of good humor. There's no preaching here, yet the narrator allows us to listen in on the thought processes of the characters, their struggles to do right, their humble self-doubt, and their reminding themselves of their convictions. Because the characters are so human, and yet are often virtuous, you grow to love them. You even want to emulate them.
In this eighth installment, the primary case that Precious Ramotswe is investigating is that of a woman who is looking for her family, even though she doesn't know her real name or if any members of her family are living. The case takes some unusual twists, and its conclusion is a demonstration of how what we may perceive as failure may ultimately be reckoned as success. Meanwhile, Phuti Radiphuti, fiance of Mma Makuti, has bought a new bed for their life together, yet tragedy strikes. And Mma Ramotswe begins receiving threatening letters in the mail. And finally, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is given false hope that his daughter's medical condition might be miraculously cured. Yet in the end, they all discover that the biggest miracles are often the smallest ones.
There are so many incidents in the book that testify to me of grace, but I'll just mention one. Mma Makutsi, indignant at an evil that Mma Ramotswe has suffered, is brought up short by Mma Ramotswe's decision to answer hatred with love:
Mma Makutsi laid aside her pencil and stared across the room at her employer. She opened her mouth to speak, but then closed it again. There was much she wanted to say, but even these few moments of contemplation of what Mma Ramotswe had said had shown her that everything that she, Mma Makutsi, would have said was wrong. Mma Ramotswe was right: evil repaid with retribution, with punishment, had achieved half its goal; evil repaid with kindness was shown to be what it really was, a small, petty thing, not something frightening at all, but something pitiable, a paltry affair.
I commend these books to you. The are full of grace, and yet not sentimental but about real people who make mistakes and yet who often demonstrate wisdom, kindness, and love. They remind you that everyday miracles abound if you look for them.