Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews



The Good Husband of Zebra Drive by Alexander McCall Smith




(Mildly Recommended)




Click on title or picture to buy from amazon.com






In the eighth installment of his series “No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” Alexander McCall Smith meanders about all the adjustments characters make for the emerging needs and interests of others. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive keeps the usual cast of characters and has them interact with some interesting clients. The patience of Precious Ramotswe  becomes strained as Grace Makutsi is considering finding another job, and J.L.B. Matekoni wants to test becoming a detective himself. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of Chapter 3, “I Have Found You,” pp. 31-35:


Mma Makutsi went home that day thinking about what Tati Monyena had said. She preferred not to dwell upon her work once she left the office—something that they had strongly rec­ommended at the Botswana Secretarial College. “Don’t go home and write letters all over again in your head,” said the lecturer. “It is best to leave the problems of the office where they belong—in the office.”

She had done that, for the most part, but it was not easy when there was something as unusual—as shocking, perhaps-­as this. Even though she tried to put out of her mind the account of the three unusual hospital deaths, the image returned of Tati Nlonyena holding up three fingers and bringing them down one b one. So might the passing of one’s life be marked-­by the rais­ing and lowering of a Finger. She thought of this again as she unlocked the door of her house and flicked the light switch. On, off: like our lives.

It had not been a good day for Mma Makutsi. She had not sought out that altercation with Mma Ramotswe—if one could call it that—and it had left her feeling uncomfortable. It was Mma Ramotswe’s fault, she decided; she should not have made those remarks about shopping during working hours. One might reasonably require a junior clerk to keep strict hours, but when it came to those at a higher level, such as herself, then a certain lee­way was surely normal. If one went to the shops in the afternoon they were full of people who were senior enough to take the time off to do their shopping. One could not expect such people—and she included herself in that category—to struggle to get every­thing done on a Saturday morning, when the whole town was try­ing to do the same thing. If Mma Ramotswe did not appreciate that, she said to herself, then she would have to employ some­body else.

She stopped. She was standing in the middle of the room when this thought crossed her mind, and she realised that it was the first time she had seriously contemplated leaving her job. And now that she had articulated the possibility, even if only to her­self, she found that she felt ashamed. Mma Ramotswe had given her her first job when she had been beaten to so many others by those feckless, glamorous girls from the Botswana Secretarial College, with their measly fifty per cent results in the final exam­inations. It had been Mma Ramotswe who had seen beyond that and had taken her on, even when the agency could hardly afford to pay her wages. That had been one of Mma Ramotswe’s many acts of kindness, and there had been others. There had been her promotion: there had been her support after the death of her brother, Richard, when Mma Ramotswe had given her three weeks off and had paid half the cost of the funeral. She had expected and wanted no thanks, had done it out of the goodness of her heart, and here was she, Mma Makutsi, thinking of leaving simply because her circumstances had improved and she was in a position to do so. She felt a flush of shame. She would apologise to Mma Ramotswe the next day and offer to work some overtime for nothing—well, perhaps not quite that, but she would make a gesture.

Mma Makutsi put the hag she was carrying on the table and started to unpack it. She had called in at the shops on the way home and had bought the supplies that she needed for Phuti Radiphuti’s dinner. He came to eat at her house on several evenings a week—on the others he still ate with his father or his aunt—and she liked to prepare him something special. Of course she knew what he liked, which was meat, good beef fed on the sweet, dry grass of Botswana; beef served with rice and thick gravy and broad beans. Mma Ramotswe always liked to cook boiled pumpkin with beef, hut Mma Makutsi preferred beans, and so did Phuti Radiphuti. It was a good thing, she thought, that they liked the same things, on the table and else­where, and that boded well for the marriage, when it eventually happened. That was something she wanted to talk to Phuti about, without appearing to be either too anxious or too keen about it. She was acutely aware of the fact that Mma Ramotswe’s engagement to Mr J.L.B. Matekoni had been a long-drawn-out affair, concluded only when he was more or less manoeuvred into position for the wedding by no less a person than Mma Poto­kwane. She did not want her engagement to last that long, and she would have to get Phuti Radiphuti to agree to a date for the wedding. He had already spoken of that, and had shown no signs of the reluctance, dithering really which had held back Mr J.L.B. Matekoni from naming a day.

The winter day died with the quickness of those latitudes. It seemed to be only for a few moments that the sun made the sky to the west red, and then it was gone. The night would be a cold one, clear and cold, with the stars suspended above like crystals. She looked out of her window at the lights of the neighbouring houses. Through the windows she saw her neighbours on the other side of the road seated round the fire that she knew they liked to keep going in their hearth throughout the winter months, triggering the memory long overlaid but still there, of sitting round the fire at the cattle posts. Mma Makutsi had no fireplace in her house, but she would have, she thought, when she moved to Phuti’s house, which had more than one; mantelpieces too, on which she could put the ornaments which she currently kept in a box behind her settee. There would be so much room in her new life; room for all the things that she had been unable to do because of poverty, and if she did not have to work—that thought returned unbidden—then she would he able to do so much. And she could stay in bed too, if she wished, until eight in the morn­ing: such a prospect—no dashing for the minibus, no crowding with two other people into a seat made for two; and so often, it seemed, those others were ladies of traditional build who could have done with an entire bench seat to themselves.

She prepared a stew for Phuti Radiphuti and carefully mea­sured out the beans that would accompany it. Then she laid the table with the plates that she knew he liked, the ones with the blue and red circles, with his teacup, a large one with a blue design that she had bought at the bring-and-buy sale at the Angli­can Cathedral. ‘That teacup,” Mma Ramotswe had said, ‘belonged to the last Dean. He was such a kind man. I saw him drinking from it.”

“It belongs to me now,” said Mma Makutsi.

Like Mma Ramotswe, Phuti Radiphuti drank red bush tea, which he thought was much better for you, but he had never asked Mma Makutsi for it and had simply taken what was served to him. He was planning, though, to make the request, but the moment had not yet arisen and with each pot of ordinary tea served it became more difficult for him to ask for something dif­ferent. That had been Mma Makutsi’s own quandary, resolved when she had eventually plucked up all her courage and blurted out to NIma Ramotswe that she would like to have India tea and would have preferred that all along.

There were one or two other matters which Phuti Radiphuti would have liked to raise with his fiancée but which he had found himself unable to bring up. They were small things, of course, hut important in a shared life. He did not take to her curtains; yellow was not a colour that appealed to him in the slightest. In his view, the best colour for curtains was undoubtedly light blue—the blue of the national flag. It was not a question of patri­otism: although there were those who painted their front doors that blue for reasons of pride. And why should they not do so, when there was a lot to be proud of? It was more a question of restfulness. Blue was a peaceful colour, Phuti Radiphuti thought. Yellow, by contrast, was an energetic, unsettled colour; a colour of warning, every bit as much as red was; a colour which made one feel vaguely uncomfortable.

But when he arrived at her house that evening, he did not want to discuss curtain colour. Quite suddenly, Phuti Radiphuti felt grateful: simply relieved that of all the men she must have come across, Mma Makutsi had chosen him. She had chosen him in spite of his stammer and his inability to dance; had seen past all that and had worked with such success on both of these defects. For that he felt thankful, so thankful, in fact, that it hurt; for it so easily might have been quite different. She might have laughed at him, or simply looked away with embarrassment as she heard his unco-operative tongue mangle the liquid syllables of Setswana; but she did not do that because she was a kind woman, and now she was about to become his wife.


Smith is a prolific writer who seems to publish a handful of novels every year. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive is a slow moving, gentle story about human nature and our struggles in relationship.


Steve Hopkins, December 20, 2007



Buy The Good Husband of Zebra Drive

@ amazon.com

Go To Hopkins & Company Homepage



Go to 2008 Book Shelf

Go to Executive Times Archives


Go to The Big Book Shelf: All Reviews





*    2008 Hopkins and Company, LLC


The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the January 2008 issue of Executive Times


URL for this review: http://www.hopkinsandcompany.com/Books/The Good Husband of Zebra Drive.htm


For Reprint Permission, Contact:

Hopkins & Company, LLC • 723 North Kenilworth AvenueOak Park, IL 60302
Phone: 708-466-4650 • Fax: 708-386-8687

E-mail: books@hopkinsandcompany.com