The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith

As always, Mma Ramotswe and her family and friends were entertaining and relaxing to read about in this latest episode of Mr. McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. This particular installment has Mma Ramotswe meeting her long-time literary mentor, CLovis Andersen, author of that hallowed tome, The Principles of Private Detection, upon which Mma Ramotswe has based her own business of private detection in Botswana.

One theme of the book seems to be whether truth really matters, whether basic principles of detection or of life must be “True Truth” in order to be useful. Mma Ramotswe says not:

“[T]here were plenty of old Botswana sayings that did the same thing, that gave you little rules for getting through life, for coping with its disappointment and sorrows. And did it matter, she wondered, whether they were true or not? Words could hurt you,and hurt you every bit as badly as sticks and stones. So that saying was wrong but that was not the point. The point was that if it made you better, made you braver, then it was doing its work. The same thing was true, Mma Ramotswe thought, of believing in God. There were plenty of people who did not really believe in God, but who wanted to believe in him, and said that they did. Some people said that these people were foolish, that they hypocritical, but Mma Ramotswe was not so sure about that. If something, or somebody, could help you to get through life, to lead a life that was good and purposeful, did it matter all that much if that thing or that person did not exist? She thought it did not—not in the slightest bit.”

I think Mma Ramotswe is somewhat right and somewhat wrong. If you comfort a child with a truism that is not really True, eventually that child will see that you are not a person of wisdom, not trustworthy. However, since God really does exist, it can only be a good thing for a person to act as if he believed in the God of Christianity even when he doesn’t completely believe. But this acting as if is only good because God is, and His law is good, and He is good. If there really were no God, then how could it be worthwhile or meaningful to follow the commands of this imaginary God? One might as well make up one’s own code of conduct and be one’s own autonomous god.

Clovis Andersen’s book helped Mma Ramotswe to start and sustain her detective agency because it had within its pages true principles of detection that Mma Ramotswe was able to apply to specific cases using the wisdom and native common sense that she already had. Even if Mr. Andersen didn’t know it, what he wrote was truth, not exhaustive truth, but truth nevertheless. Had Mr. Andersen written a book that was untrue in its basic underlying principles, Mma Ramotswe would not have found it useful, no matter how much she believed in it or pretended to believe in it.

It is never foolish to follow Truth, whether you believe in what you are doing or not. It is always foolish to follow falsehood, even if it seems to work out in the short run. All Truth is God’s truth in the end.

One thought on “The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith

  1. Thanks for the review. I’d seen the books a while back but wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy them. From what you’ve written, though, I feel pretty confident I’d enjoy them very much! :)

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