Monthly Archives: February 2018

The Book Whisperer Discovers a New Detective Series




One of my book challenges for 2018 is to read the first book in a mystery series I have not read previously. Obviously, I would have many from which to choose; after reading about Tracee de Hahn who was born in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, grew up in Kentucky, and lived in Switzerland after receiving a degree in architecture and European history from the University of Kentucky, I made my choice: Swiss Vendetta, the first in a detective series featuring Inspector Agnes Luthi.

Inspector Luthi has experienced a tragedy in her own life when her husband inexplicably commits suicide, leaving Agnes stunned and trying to care for their three young sons. When Agnes returns to work after her husband’s funeral, she asks for a transfer to the Violent Crimes unit from Financial Crimes, reasoning that she needs a fresh start working with new colleagues. Her new boss will be Chief Bardy; she is leaving Chief Carnet of Financial Crimes behind.

Tracee de Hahn felt inspired to write this story after the epic 2005 ice storm in Geneva, Switzerland and surrounding area; the storm left the area paralyzed and without power for days. See pictures below from the real ice storm.



Inspector Luthi is on her way home, along with several other officers deemed non-essential that evening as the ice storm is beginning. However, before she can get home, she receives a call to go to Ville-sur-Lac where a young woman has been found murdered at Chateau Vallotton, a prestigious estate owned by the wealthy Vallotton family.

Inspector Luthi almost makes it to Chateau Vallotton when her Citroen C1 slides off the road, then hitting the Chateau wall before coming to a stop. Luckily, Agnes is in sight of the Chateau at this point. She has also called Sybille, her mother-in-law who is caring for Agnes’ three sons, to tell her about the assignment.

Unfortunately, Agnes is not properly dressed for the magnitude of cold and slippery ice she must navigate in order to make it to the crime scene and then the Chateau Vallotton. I felt cold just reading about Agnes’ stop by the dead woman’s body. The murder takes place on the grounds between Chateau Vallotton and the smaller, though still majestic, mansion owned by the Vallotton family, but leased to Vladimir Arsov, an elderly Russian businessman.

The photograph below is not Chateau Vallotton; it is Schadau Castle. From the descriptions in Swiss Vendetta, I could see a chateau such as Schadau Castle.


Picture from  schloss-schadau-schadau-palace-thun.html

Because of the severity of the ice storm, power outages, and inability to leave the Chateau except to cross the lawn to Arsov’s home, de Hahn has set up the classic closed room mystery even though suspects can move from one home to the other. No one can leave the premises, at least and not get very far.

Who are the suspects? As with many of the Golden Age mysteries, this modern-day mystery also offers readers a variety of suspects. As Agnes investigates, she discovers she must question servants in two houses, an American college student doing research in the Chateau Vallotton library, Marquise Antoinette Vallotton de Tornay and her godson, along with the Marquise’s two nephews and niece-in-law. Other potential suspects include Frederic Estranguet, who has been using the Chateau Vallotton library for research and who helped Agnes and Chief Carnet get from their stranded cars to the Chateau as well as Harry Thomason who claims to be the dead woman’s fiancé.

Although I complained about coincidences in the review of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore, I find the coincidences in this story more acceptable. They fit into the story once readers have the entire narrative opened up. One perhaps not unexpected turn is a connection to WWII which Arsov provides. He escaped being murdered in Russia by Nazi soldiers by pretending to be dead and lying in the open grave with his dead family members and fellow townspeople.

Inspector Agnes Luthi, like Arsov, is an outsider since she is an American by birth. Her parents raised her in Switzerland and then they returned to the US. Agnes decides to remain in Switzerland where she marries George and carves out a career in the police force. Still, she considers herself an outsider, something Sybille, her mother-in-law reminds her about often.  Because of George’s suicide, Agnes recognizes her difference even more stringently.

Felicity Cowell has come from London to evaluate art owned by the Vallotton family. She works for an auction house in London. Julien Vallotton, older son, and current owner of Chateau Vallotton, has commissioned Felicity to spend several weeks going through the art work.

Why would Felicity who is dressed in a priceless gown from the Napoleonic era be murdered on the grounds of Chateau Vallotton? Agnes must work with her old boss Chief Carnet because her new boss Chief Bardy cannot get through the icy streets to the Chateau Vallotton. As Agnes and her team discover that Felicity Cowell is actually Courtney Cowell who has no university education or training to help her evaluate the art, the mystery deepens. Is Felicity/Courtney connected somehow to Ralph Mulholland, the Marquise’s godson who lives in London? What about a connection with the American graduate student Frank Graves who is using the Vallotton library? And who is Harry Thomason who says he is Felicity’s fiancé?

Swiss Vendetta provides a satisfying story with a manageable cast of suspects. Inspector Agnes Luthi is a formidable police detective. I look forward to reading the second book which has already been published in 2018: A Well-Timed Murder. Tracee de Hahn’s university education in architecture and European history serve her well in the stories.

Find out more about Tracee and the Agnes Lüthi Mysteries on her official Web site:, Facebook at TraceedeHahnwriter, and on Twitter @LuthiMysteries.

Read de Hahn’s blog:






The Book Whisperer’s Brief Review



Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore sounds like the perfect book for a reader fond of both libraries and bookstores—that would be this reader, The Book Whisperer. Matthew Sullivan began his writing career by publishing short stories which have received the Robert Olen Butler Fiction Prize and the Florida Review Editor’s Prize for Fiction. His short stories have appeared in The Chattahoochee Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Fugue, Evansville Review, and 580-Split. Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore is his first novel.

Kirby Kim of Janklow & Nesbit writes, “Sullivan’s writing occasionally calls too much attention to itself and a surfeit of coincidence strains credulity, but this inventive and intricately plotted mystery still largely satisfies.” I agree wholly with the “surfeit of coincidence,” but I cannot go along by saying the novel still satisfies.

While I am not sorry I read the book, I cannot give it my highest recommendation. The coincidences simply make the novel flawed. Sullivan does weave in Lydia’s backstory well. As a ten-year-old, she is spending the night at her friend Carol’s when a madman enters the home and kills Carol’s parents and Carol, but leaves Lydia untouched even though police know he must have seen her.

Then does the fact that Lydia escapes mean her father is the killer? He is after all the person who discovers the bodies when he comes to collect his daughter after the supposed sleepover.  Still, I find it difficult to believe a father could murder three people and leave his daughter the rest of the night in the home with the slaughtered bodies.


Picture from Poisoned Pen Bookstore, UK


The Book Whisperer Examines an Oklahoma Author


Mary Coley began writing nonfiction; in addition, she has been a journalist, a park planner, an environmental educator, and a public relations officer. Coley grew up in Enid, OK, but now makes Tulsa her home.  Cobwebs became Coley’s first full-length novel. She worked on it off and on for ten years until she was satisfied with it and ready to publish.

Coley followed Cobwebs with Ant Dens, Beehives, The Ravine, and Blood on the Cimarron. You might say she has got the hang of writing full-length novels now.

Mary Coley recounts her love of the written word by explaining that she learned to read in kindergarten. Even as a second grader, her love of the environment became evident as she read National Geographic along with a wide variety of other subjects. Luckily for Coley, her father had an extensive library, so she made good use of it.

Coley advises would-be writers to get busy and write their stories. She suggests they join a writers’ group and attend writing conferences. Take a creative writing class. Also, joining a book club helps writers through the diverse readings and discussions. Coley does remind her readers that “writing takes a lot of work and a lot of tenacity.” As a composition teacher in a community college, I liked to remind my students of a quote by Pete Hamill: “Writing is the hardest work in the world not involving heavy lifting.”

Coley became interested in writing Cobwebs after learning about the history of the Osage and their becoming some of the wealthiest people in the world by receiving oil and gas royalties. In the 1920s, the Osage suffered mysterious deaths and outright murders because homicidal and thieving whites wanted to strip the Osage of their money. The US government aided in the massacre of the Osage because it decreed that the Osage must have a white guardian, thus legalizing theft.

Jamie Aldrich who lives in New Mexico where she teaches biology has returned to Pawhuska, OK, after a thirty-year absence. As a child, Jamie and her sister had spent summers in Pawhuska visiting their great-aunt Elizabeth. Now, Elizabeth, ninety and bedridden, has called asking Jaime to come to Pawhuska intoning, “Come now, Jamie. You must come before it’s too late.”


Picture above from;imode#.WosMcudMGUk.

That phone call sets Jaime on a journey she does not expect and even endangers her life. Jaime does follow her great-aunt’s bidding and takes a week off from her teaching, thinking that is all the time she will need to help her aunt. The reality is quite different from Jaime’s expectations, however.

Jaime arrives to find Aunt Elizabeth’s attorney, Sam Mazie, in the kitchen and her aunt in her upstairs bedroom. Jamie feels a brief sense of recognition when she meets Sam, but she cannot quite place how she knows him. Elizabeth, though weak, is glad to see Jaime. Elizabeth continues to remind Jamie that “time is running out,” but Jaime tells her aunt they will talk when her aunt is stronger.

Jaime does not know anyone else is in the home after Sam leaves besides her and Aunt Elizabeth. However, someone tries to smother Aunt Elizabeth although Jaime does not see anyone else. The would-be murderer slipped out without being seen. Thus, police chief Green suspects Jaime has tried to murder her aunt even though Jamie is the one who calls 911.

Green also learns that Jaime’s husband Ben has died recently of cancer, but Jaime has been investigated in his death. Although Ben begged Jaime to help him die, she could not despite the extreme suffering he experienced because of the cancer. This dark cloud hangs over Jamie along with her sorrow over his death. Now, people in Pawhuska are looking at her as if she wants to murder her aunt.

Back in New Mexico, Jamie’s son has a new job and she would like to be supportive of him and learn about his work. Too, her daughter is getting married soon, so Jamie wants to be involved in the wedding plans. Finally, Jamie’s mother must have some medical tests. Yet Jamie must remain in Pawhuska to discover what Aunt Elizabeth wants and to keep Aunt Elizabeth safe.

As Jamie stays in her aunt’s home while her aunt is in a coma in the hospital, strange events occur. Jamie knows someone has come into the house even though she locked the doors and windows. Threatening notes appear. Windows are broken. And worst of all thousands of black widow spiders are let loose in the house. Readers are also privy to a suspicious character dressed in black and wearing a hoody who hovers in the shadows of the garden watching Jaime and plotting more destruction and death.

Who sends the threatening notes and why? Who is the mysterious figure standing in the shadows? Jaime must figure out the connections and learn about the murderous shadow. What would cause all this intrigue? As Jaime continues to stay in Aunt Elizabeth’s home, she learns more and more about her family’s past and their Osage blood. Old family secrets, long hidden, surface.

Jamie goes through old pictures and learns about family history, but the process is agonizingly slow. People in town do not trust her, so finding an ally becomes difficult. Jamie also keeps getting hurt because of traps laid by that unknown person. Because of her persistence and resilience, Jamie finally discovers the truth. What is that truth? You must read Cobwebs to discover it for yourself.

Read Mary Coley’s blog postings about her adventures in writing at this link:

For more information and to follow Mary Coley, visit her full Web site at this link:

The Book Whisperer Likes Quirky & Charming


The Keeper of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan consists of three intertwined stories. The first story depicts Anthony Peardew, author of short stories and his love for Therese, his fiancée who dies unexpectedly. Closely related to Anthony and Therese’s story is Laura’s story. The more tenuous connection between the first two stories lies in the one featuring Eunice and Bomber.

Other reviewers have used words such as quirky, cozy, clever, warm, and whimsical in describing both the story and the characters of The Keeper of Lost Things. I can agree with those descriptions.

Anthony Peardew, a quiet man, writes short stories; his passion for lost things develops when Therese, his fiancée and the love of his life dies unexpectedly shortly before their wedding. On the day of her death, Anthony himself also lost Therese’s communion medallion, given to Anthony by Therese.


The two losses together cause Anthony to begin collecting lost things he finds on the train, on the sidewalk, in a playground, or wherever someone has lost an object. The object may be as small as a button or hair tie, but Anthony carefully labels the item with the date and location where he has found the item. His study, which only he enters, contains the entire collection.

Did I mention that Therese had red hair? Anthony’s attorney tells Laura that “[Therese] had wonderful red hair, you know.” He goes on to say she “was a magnificent woman. Oh, she had a wild streak and a fiery temper when roused.”

The Keeper of Lost Things begins with Anthony’s finding a Huntley & Palmers’ biscuit tin of cremains on the train from London Bridge to Brighton. Anthony tries to turn the biscuit tin into the train station ticket collector, but the ticket collector refuses to take the tin: “You’d be amazed at the rubbish people leave on the trains.” Knowing the man would simply throw the tin away, Anthony takes it home and labels it, adding the tin to the large collection he has already amassed.

Laura enters Anthony’s life at this time when he advertises for a housekeeper. Laura’s story is important because she has divorced an abusive husband after marrying at a young age and finding her dream life to be a nightmare. Laura takes the job as Anthony’s housekeeper and the two get along well, if quietly. They do not intrude upon one another until one day Anthony asks Laura to talk with him before she leaves for the day. He has an important message to convey. Not that the two are unfriendly, they simply keep their distance, each having been hurt in different ways.

When they sit down for tea, however, Anthony tells Laura about Therese and how much he loved her. He has planned to give Laura quite another message which she discovers a few days later.

Anthony Peardew’s short stories also appear in the story, always in connection with one of the lost objects. Anthony incorporates the lost item in the story. In addition, the stories often contain Anthony’s memories of his childhood and other experiences. One story centers on a large blue button such as would be on a woman’s coat.


Other characters in the novel add to the quirkiness alluded to earlier. Freddy is the part-time gardener Laura hires shortly after taking her job as housekeeper. The garden has a lovely rose garden and other flowers, but neglect has taken its toll on the grounds. Freddy, who has left a job in IT to work outside, revives the garden, bringing all of it, but especially the roses back to their former beauty. Anthony had commissioned the rose garden for Therese soon after they met.

Sunshine, the nineteen-year-old neighbor with Down Syndrome, enters Laura’s life because Sunshine decides Laura needs “a new friend.” Sunshine rings the bell and announces to Laura, “My name Sunshine and I can be your new friend.” Sunshine plays an important role in making the story complete.

Eunice, a young woman, answers an advertisement: “Assistant required for established publisher. Wages woeful but work never dull!” The add intrigued her because Eunice always adhered to her grandmother’s advice that “one could blame ugliness on one’s genes and ignorance on one’s education, but there was absolutely no excuse whatsoever for being dull.”

To discover how Anthony, Therese, Laura, Freddy, Sunshine, Eunice, and Bomber all come together to create a heartwarming story, read The Keeper of Lost Things. Readers will discover that as Booklist describes, “even discarded items have significance and seemingly random objects, people, and places are all interconnected.” Some of the items Anthony has collected include a china tea cup found on a park bench and a single lady’s glove.

Through her blog on her Web site, Ruth Hogan provides her readers glimpses of her writing process and how she finds her characters. Hogan is a people watcher, so she takes careful notice of others wherever she finds herself. She also admits to being an eavesdropper on other people’s conversations. Telling readers she does not base characters on people she knows, Hogan does admit to seeing a spark of an idea develop because of a person she sees or a conversation she overhears. She keeps a notebook where the sparks lie just waiting to be developed into full-fledged characters, dialogue, or scenes.

My favorite story from her blog occurs when she is waiting in the dentist office when “a very dapper gentleman came in and spoke to the receptionist. There had been a mix-up with his appointment time, and she offered him a later slot. I’ll remember his reply forever. ‘I’m terribly sorry – I can’t do that. I’ve a plane waiting to take me to the Bahamas.’”

Watch this YouTube video in which Ruth Hogan talks about The Keeper of Lost Things:

For more information and to read Hogan’s blog entries, visit her Web site:

The Book Whisperer Likes Lucy Strange’s Debut Novel


Thanks to my friend Theresa for suggesting The Secret of Nightingale Wood. She has suggested several good choices to me, and she knows I enjoy reading books for all ages. I am glad to have discovered The Secret of Nightingale Wood through her recommendation.

The Secret of Nightingale Wood, Lucy Strange’s first novel, combines fairytales, myths and effective storytelling to create a compelling story for eight – twelve-year-olds. Henrietta, always called Henry, and her mother, father, baby sister, and Nanny Jane have moved from London into the countryside, near the village of Little Birdham. The family is renting a home called Hope House. Though a bit neglected, the house is sturdy and accommodating for the family. The name Hope House gives readers the first clue that while Henry may encounter difficulties at first that hope is around the corner, especially when Henry takes matters into her own hands.

The story is set in 1919. The only modern convenience in Hope House is the telephone which Henry is not allowed to answer or use. Strange’s setting of the story in 1919 gives her opportunity to develop Henry’s thoughts and character through her actions, memories, and books, especially the lovely book of fairytales Robert had given her for her birthday shortly before his death.

The family is in distress because Henry’s older brother Robert has died a year before the move. His death has been very hard on the whole family as one would imagine. Baby Roberta, affectionately called Piglet, is born the day after Robert’s funeral. The whole family suffers from Robert’s loss, but Mama must be experiencing post-partum depression, no doubt related to losing Robert.

Father hopes that the move will improve Mama’s condition and allow the family to heal. Sadly, Father receives word he must travel to Italy for his engineering job, leaving Nanny Jane in charge of Henry and Piglet while Mama is being treated by an unkind and somewhat frightening Dr. Hardy with threats of a Dr. Chilvers joining in the treatment or of sending Mama and possibly Henry herself to an asylum run by the mysterious Dr. Chilvers.

Strange’s choice of names for the two doctors fits right in with the sense of a fairytale she has created. Dr. Hardy, a hard man, represents a bogeyman, one who threatens Henry’s family. Chilvers’s name itself suggests chills running up and down one’s spine. What will he do to Mama if she is taken away to the asylum?

Readers are somewhat suspicious of Nanny Jane because she appears to be in league with Dr. Hardy. Dr. Hardy’s method of curing Mama is to keep her sedated in a locked room. Of course, Henry wants to be able to see her mother and to take Piglet into her mother’s room too. Both of these wishes are denied. Resourceful Henry, however, finds the key to Mama’s room in the kitchen hanging with a number of other keys to the old house.

Mrs. Berry comes to Hope House to cook for the family every day; her husband, Mr. Berry, also does odd jobs around the property. He will occasionally drive Nanny Jane, Piglet, and Henry to the beach for an afternoon picnic. Both Mr. and Mrs. Berry are kindly people and become important to Henry in resolving the problems her family is experiencing.

As with so many fairytales, The Secret of Nightingale Wood has a witch or at least a scary-looking woman living deep in the woods behind Hope House. And, as if often the case with such stories, the witch turns out to be not a witch at all, but someone who helps Henry in her quest to resolve her family’s difficulties. The woman’s secret identity will help Henry unravel several mysteries. The woman herself overcomes her own sorrow to help Henry in her time of need.

Henry enjoys spending time in the garden of Hope House. As she becomes more intrigued with the woods, she ventures into them where she discovers an illusive woman living in a caravan nestled in the woods.

Children will enjoy seeing Henry develop her skills of investigation. They will also enjoy Henry’s defiance against the two evil doctors who have imprisoned her mother.

Kirkus provides this review of The Secret of Nightingale Wood: “In an imaginative, compelling first-person narration, Henry wraps her story in fairy tales, exposing her guilt, grief, isolation, and fear as she unravels the stunning secrets of Nightingale Wood.” Publisher’s Weekly calls Henry “a brave heroine.”

Strange has been an elementary school English teacher. In addition, Strange has been an actor, singer, and storyteller. Those experiences serve her well in her debut novel: The Secret of Nightingale Wood.

Lucy Strange gives advice to aspiring writers. She tells them to “find a story that you need to tell and give it time to settle and develop in your mind. I find a lot of writing needs to take place in my head before I can start actually writing.” To see all five tips, visit the link below:

The Book Whisperer Reviews a Best Seller


Chloe Benjamin has received praise for The Immortalists from a wide variety of reviews and other authors. Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls and other well-known novels, wrote “Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists is the very best kind of literary thriller, its suspense deriving from characters we care about deeply and surprises that feel embedded in our shared humanity. As profound a meditation on destiny as readers are likely to encounter.” The New York Times Book Review calls The Immortalists “a captivating family saga.”

Perhaps what persuaded me to pick up the book, however, was a note from People Magazine: “This literary family saga is perfect for fans of Celeste Ng and Donna Tartt.” As a fan of both Ng and Tartt, I was intrigued enough to check The Immortalists out of the library. Luckily, I found it on the quick pick shelf. Add to these reviews my friend Bev Litzinger’s recommendation. How could I go wrong in choosing The Immortalists?

In the summer of 1969, the four Gold children are bored and tired of being cooped up in their apartment. Daniel, 11, persuades his siblings Varya, 13, Klara, 9, and Simon 7, to find a “woman on Hester Street” who can tell them the dates of their deaths. Varya, the eldest, is particularly skeptical about this adventure, but Daniel persists until all four agree to join him in finding the woman and learning the dates of their deaths.


I was struck by the choice of Hester Street as the location of the woman’s apartment. I immediately thought of Hawthorne and The Scarlet Letter, not that adultery is involved in the story, but that sense of Puritan outrage with anything odd, occult, or out of the norm.

Daniel has learned about the woman from overhearing some older boys talking. He goes back and asks them where he can find the woman. They tell him which apartment building, but they do not know the specific apartment number. Still, the Golds decide to go into the building and find the woman. Now, they have become invested in their quest.

Inside the apartment building, the children choose a door and knock. The woman responds, “Yeah?”

Klara says, “We’re here to see the woman.” When the woman says they must come in one at a time, Varya does not want to continue; the children have not thought about being separated for this reading. Still, the woman opens the door and Klara quickly moves inside.

Strangely, Klara does not return to the hall, but the woman opens the door and Daniel quickly slips inside ahead of Varya and Simon. As he moves inside the apartment, Daniel reassures his siblings: “Don’t worry.” Will that comment reassure the four of them, though?

Simon becomes the next Gold sibling to enter, leaving Varya alone in the hallway. She feels that isolation weighing heavily. Benjamin heightens the suspense in describing Varya’s panic: “She feels cut off from her siblings, as if she is standing on the shore, watching their ships float away. She should have stopped them from coming. By the time the door opens again, sweat has pooled above her upper lip and in the waistband of her skirt.”

After giving Varya her fortune, the woman opens a door leading to the fire escape where Varya sees her siblings huddled. The woman tells Varya, “Everything is gonna come out okay for you, honey.” Even when the woman repeats, “everything is gonna work out okay,” Varya feels as if the woman is threatening her.

Now, the four Gold children know, at least according to the woman, the dates of their deaths. The woman has told them not to share the information with anyone. Clearly, Daniel and Simon are upset, angry even. Have they learned they will die early? Is Daniel now sorry he pushed the others into going to see the woman? What about Varya and Klara? Are they unhappy with their outcomes?

The story then breaks into four parts, starting with Simon’s story. We follow Simon as he runs away from home at sixteen, leaving with Klara who is now eighteen. Their father has died, leaving their mother bewildered. Klara and Simon flee to San Francisco. Their stories remain intertwined even though the focus on this part becomes Simon. Simon, at sixteen, cannot find many jobs, but he becomes a dancer at Purp, a bar. Then he begins taking ballet on the bar owner’s recommendation since Simon’s dance moves are pedestrian at best.


Simon’s story is followed by Klara’s, so readers are seeing what happens to each Gold sibling in reverse order since Simon is the baby and Klara just older than he. Klara becomes the magician she has always wanted to be. Life remains hard, however. She marries and has a daughter, Ruby. We follow her and her husband as they try to make a living for themselves and their daughter.


Daniel becomes our next focus. He goes through medical school and joins the army where he serves as a medical officer. He marries and readers can see his life appears to be on track. Daniel’s story is crucial since he is the original instigator of the visit to the woman on Hester Street.

Finally, we learn Varya’s story. Varya goes through graduate school earning a Ph.D. She studies longevity in animals and wants to learn how to apply her studies to humans. Following Klara and Simon’s escape to San Francisco, Varya takes a break from graduate school to stay with their mother who feels particularly betrayed by Simon’s defection.


The siblings remain in touch with each other and with their mother, though Klara and Simon live across the country from the New York apartment where their mother still lives. What has learning their death dates done to the siblings’ choices in life? Are the four governed by that knowledge? Do they believe the woman could truly predict their death dates? Do they ever share what they have learned?

Chloe Benjamin has created a thought-provoking novel. What would we do and how would we live if we knew with certainty when we would die? Do we wish for that knowledge? Readers might wonder why Daniel chooses to know his death date rather than asking some other question. Or does the woman specialize in telling people their death dates?

Visit Chloe Benjamin’s site:


The Book Whisperer Reviews a Favorite



Writing a review of The House of Unexpected Sisters by Alexander McCall Smith is pure joy. The House of Unexpected Sisters is the 18th book in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, and it is as charming and inviting as the other 17 books have been. The New York Times Book Review sums up Alexander McCall Smith’s talent in writing the Precious Ramotswe series this way: “In anxious times, we turn to comfort foods. But what about comfort books? Alexander McCall Smith serves up a perfect example” in all the No. 1 Detective Agency novels and The House of Unexpected Sisters is no exception.

Alexander McCall Smith, born Zimbabwe, understands the culture of Mma Ramotswe’s city and country. After earning a law degree, he taught law at the University of Botswana. He writes about the city, country, and people with warmth and affection; he also recognizes the warts and includes them in his books as well. Alexander McCall Smith has produced over fifty novels including two other series and a number of stand-alone books. Currently, Alexander McCall Smith lives in Scotland where he proudly proclaims his membership in the RTO (Really Terrible Orchestra) as a bassoonist. He is also Professor Emeritus of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh.


Fans of Mma Precious Ramotswe and the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series know to expect Precious to examine several small cases over the course of each novel. Many of the cases involve misunderstandings, spousal cheating, or injustice of one kind or another. In this latest installment, Mma Ramotswe and her associate Mma Makutsi are joined by Mr. Polopetsi who works part-time with the agency and teaches chemistry as well.

Mr. Polopetsi brings an intriguing case to the agency. Charity Mompoloki has been fired unjustly from her much needed job at The Office Place, which sells office furniture. The owner accuses Charity of being rude to a valuable customer. A widow with two children to support, Charity badly needs her job. Mr. Polopetsi has learned of the injustice from a fellow teacher, Charity’s sister.

Mma Ramotswe agrees that the agency should look into the case. Throughout the investigation, the case takes unexpected turns, especially when Charity’s own mother says that Charity could, indeed, be sharp-tongued upon occasion. Charlie, who works with Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, Precious’s husband and owner of the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, also doubles as a helper in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency at times.

As usual, Mma Ramotswe must walk carefully around Mma Makutsi.  Mma Makutsi feels strongly about her hometown, her love of shoes, and the Botswana Secretarial College, where she earned a 97% often. Any perceived slights cause Mma Makutsi to pout and become irritated. Mma Ramotswe assuages Mma Makutsi by softly leading the conversation away from controversy. Mma Makutsi, unlike Mma Ramotswe, often speaks in haste as well. In those cases, in the presence of others, Mma Ramotswe must gently turn the conversation so that Mma Makutsi is not embarrassed or that she does not embarrass someone else.

In the course of investigating Charity’s possible unfair firing, Mma Ramotswe sees a picture of a group of nurses who work in Lobatse. One of the names stands out: Mingie Ramotswe. Precious knows of no one called Mingie Ramotswe and knows few other people with her last name, so she becomes curious. Mingie’s age is listed as 43, a year older than Precious. That fact makes her wonder about her father, the wonderful Obed Ramotswe; could he have been cheating on her dear mother?

In addition to the mystery about a possible new relative and her father’s possible affair, Precious learns that her abusive first husband Note has returned. All of these issues weigh on Precious even as she and the rest of the team try to solve Charity’s problem.

The stories involving Precious and her friends move slowly, but that is not to say they are uninteresting. The pace plays an important part of the entire life in Botswana even as Precious, Mma Potokwane and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni bemoan the changes taking place in Botswana, new ways replacing old.

Precious arranges to meet Mingie and learn about her background. When they meet in person, they clearly are related because they look so much alike. Precious learns her father did not cheat on her mother; Mingie was born to a relationship some time after Precious’s mother died. The newspaper gives the wrong age for Mingie.

Alexander McCall Smith does not disappoint whether one is reading the first book or the eighteenth!

See Alexander McCall Smith’s page at the University of Edinburgh:

Check out Alexander McCall Smith’s homepage where you will find short stories and excerpts from novels as well as other interesting tidbits: