Little, Brown £14.99 (249pp) £13.49 (free p&p) from 0870 079 8897

The Miracle at Speedy Motors, by Alexander McCall Smith

Sense and kindness under an African sky

"Fat woman beware! You think that you are Number 1, but you are Number Nothing!" The recipient of this anonymous letter is Precious Ramotswe, the "traditionally built" detective of Alexander McCall Smith's bestselling No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. In this ninth volume, Mma Ramotswe has to tackle a mystery of her own: who is sending these threatening letters?

It is 10 years since McCall Smith began the series, in which Mma Ramotswe solves mysteries through common sense and kindness. None of them could be described as standard detective fiction: there are no bodies or post mortems and the closest thing to a car chase is a trolley chase through a supermarket. All are rooted in Botswana – in the beauty of its "empty, blue, limitless" sky, its parched longing for rain, its traditions of courtesy and respect.

Speedy Motors is the garage of Mma Ramotswe's husband, Mr JLB Matekoni, where the detective agency has its office. The "miracle" is more complex.

At one level, it refers to Mr Matekoni's hope of curing the paralysis of their adoptive daughter, Motholeli. But at a more profound level, it refers to the "invisible links that connected people, that made for belonging". These links are revealed in an unexpected quarter – through the apprentice Charlie, "who was normally all jokes and showing-off" and who once called Grace Makutsi, Mma Ramotswe's assistant, a warthog. But seeing Mma Makutsi in distress, he suddenly "reached out and touched her lightly on the shoulder". It is deeply moving: a small miracle which shifts the "sandbank of animosity" between them.

Mma Ramotswe, as always, is at the centre of the narrative, providing the author's moral view. But the real star is Mma Makutsi. Up to now, she has been little more than a foil to her employer. But here her all-too-human failures – a slight untruth here, a too-hasty judgement there – compel our recognition and sympathy.

Although from a humble background, she obtained a stellar 97 per cent in her examinations at the Botswana Secretarial College. Despite her blotchy skin and large glasses, which made her the butt of the glamorous set, she is engaged to the owner of the Double Comfort Furniture Shop. She had "started life with nothing, or next to nothing", observes her creator with affection and pride, "and if she now had something, then that was entirely due to hard work".

So it was with Botswana: one of the poorest countries of the world at independence in 1966, but which – through hard work and prudence – went on to become the world's fastest-growing economy and a stable, middle-income nation. McCall Smith is clearly concerned to showcase Botswana's great achievements and the legacy of the founding President, Seretse Khama: "a man who believed in his country and had stood up for what it represented, which was decency above all else". If anybody in Botswana tried to rob a bank, comments Mma Ramotswe, "you'd probably know exactly who they were. You could simply threaten to tell their mothers."

The Miracle at Speedy Motors is written with grace and charm, just like the earlier books. But it is also strengthened by a new gravity: the message that Western nations – which tend to regard Africa as a hopeless mess – have in fact much to learn from Botswana and from its miracle of "belonging". The "holding of hands, human hand in human hand", urges McCall Smith, "could help, could make the world seem less broken".

Susan Williams's 'Colour Bar: the triumph of Seretse Khama and his nation' is published by Penguin

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?