Thursday, November 15, 2018

Book Review: THE COLORS OF ALL THE CATTLE

Title: The Colors of All the Cattle
Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Publisher: Pantheon Books
Pages: 240
My GoodReads Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐





Precious Ramotswe, the great lady detective of Botswana, has always been one of my favourites, even though I have read only one book in the series so far, and that too a decade ago. Still, like her husband Mr JLB Matekoni, who also happens to be one of the finest mechanics in Botswana, I too think very highly of her.

In this book, we see Precious being talked by her friend, Sylvia Potokwane, into standing for election to the local council. Sylvia’s contention is that if good people like her don’t contest, then bad people like Violet Sephotho will win uncontested. If Precious wins, she can prevent certain vested interests from building the Great Fun Hotel right next to a cemetery.

Meanwhile, Dr Marang, a respected doctor from Precious’ hometown, and his daughter, Constance, want Precious to take up their case. It seems that the good doctor had been knocked down by a blue car in a hit-and-run accident. The police have failed to discover the identity of the culprit, and Dr Marang wants closure.

Charlie, apprentice mechanic at Mr Maketoni’s garage, who also works as a part-time detective, faces real danger when he asks too many questions about Dr Marang’s accident.

Will the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency solve the mystery? Will Precious win or lose the election? And would that spell the end of the agency? Read the book to find out.


On the face of it, there isn’t one tight plot; more like a string of subplots involving a silent seven-year-old boy living on Sylvia’s Orphan Farm who steals birds’ eggs to Dr Marang who suffers terribly in a hit-and-run accident, from the election to a seat on the local council to the wooing of Queenie-Queenie, a pretty girl, by Charlie, and how Hercules, her bodybuilder of a brother does a fine job of keeping overeager suitors at bay.

There are digressions into Grace Makutsi’s domestic circumstances, her husband and the business he runs, their son and even how well they treat their domestic help.

Despite the plethora of subplots, we have the satisfaction of seeing every one of them gently and resolutely tied up.

The style of writing is such that before long we find ourselves warming to all the characters, even the minor ones. The author even draws our attention to colloquialisms like “late,” which is how the characters refer to deceased people.


It was great to renew my acquaintance with Precious. A traditionally built woman, she has many qualities to recommend her. I was pleased to discover that she had modern views on the importance of boys learning to cook because, of course, they eat. What a simple yet potent argument!

The cases she solves may be simple, but there is nothing simple about Precious. She has a sense of tactfulness that she employs when handling Grace, who certainly tries Precious’ patience even as she sees herself as the person whose patience is being rigorously tested.

Grace is an interesting character. Her stories go off on a tangent. It is amusing to see Grace’s conscientiousness in preventing Fanwell from taking liberties with designations when she was even quicker to promote herself to the position of Joint MD with Precious. She also stood out for her belief in the superior advantages bestowed on her by her education from the Botswana Secretarial College.

We come to know both these women better through their marital relationships and their conversations with their respective husbands.

Fanwell, the only minor character who had no subplot in this book, proved to be endearing even in the bit role he was afforded.



There are some simple truths hidden in the pages. Never, never think that you are justified in doing something wrong just because you are trying to do something right, Precious insists, and hence she refuses to make any promises during her campaigning.

One of her observations is There are some people who smile on the outside when they are not smiling on the inside.

We learn of other homespun wisdom. There are some guests who do not knock.

Strong men do not need to throw their weight around.

Even Grace gets a chance to display her wisdom when she says, There are people who want more than their fair share of tea. This is Botswana and no matter what the complication, tea can make it better.


The omniscient narrator has a faint, very British, and affectionately patronizing attitude towards the characters. It is an attitude that is one-part annoyed, and three-part indulgent. There is an undeniable affection that we sense and imbibe.

It makes Botswana come alive to those of us who’ve never been there and know nothing about it. A smattering of its history come alive, and we become aware, through Precious and the other characters, of the simplicity of its people.



(I received an ARC from First to Read).


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