The Colors of All the Cattle [Book Review]

November 16, 2018

The Colors of All the Cattle by Alexander McCall Smith

Where are my faithful readers of this series?!

the color of all the cattle 2

Genre/Categories: Gentle Mystery, Amateur Sleuths, Botswana, “UpLit”

My Summary:

The Colors of All the Cattle is the nineteenth installment of this charming, easy-reading series. All the usual characters are present, reflecting on life, drinking tea, embracing tradition, and investigating human nature in sunny Botswana. In the newest story, Mma Ramotswe reluctantly runs for political office, battling long-time adversary Violet Sephotho. Using the honest slogan, “I can’t promise anything–but I shall do my best,” Precious Ramotswe is torn between wanting to do her duty, not disappointing her supporters and friends, and being in the public spotlight. In this story, we find Charlie becoming more mature, and we experience again the wisdom, graciousness, honesty, good humor, kindness, and thoughtfulness that is exemplified in the main character, Precious Ramotswe.  Along with the unfolding of this story and interactions between beloved characters, we are treated to beautiful descriptions of Botswana.

My Thoughts:

cup of tea

“Tea, thought Mma Ramotswe–no matter what was happening, no matter how difficult things became, there was always the tea break–that still moment, that unchangeable ritual, that survived everything, made normal the abnormal, renewed one’s ability to cope with whatever the world laid before one. Tea.”

Series Overview. In the most soothing of ways, The Colors of All the Cattle is predictable to the other stories in the series: readers grow to appreciate the beauty of Africa (Botswana is almost a character in the story); there’s always time for a cup of tea at work or at home; and the characters are likable, quirky, and warmly drawn. Mma Ramotswe, founder and owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, is a “traditionally built woman,” gentle, honest, inclusive, compassionate, full of common sense, thoughtful, gracious, and wise. In fact, she always chooses kindness and forgiveness as her response and never revenge. Idealistically, she believes that people are good and kind and want to enjoy themselves and take care of each other. She is a proponent of the old Botswana morality and the traditional ways (especially the old way of greeting others and breaks for tea). The focus of her work at the Ladies’ Detective Agency is on righting small injustices. The books in this series need to be read when you’re in the mood for a slow-paced, character driven story with an abundance of reflection and description. It could be classified as a gentle, cozy mystery and a true comfort read. It seems that we always feel like we can be better people after spending time with Precious Ramotswe.

Loyal Fan. Once I begin a beloved series, it’s difficult for me to let it go. So, I’m still reading the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series nineteen years later! Who’s still reading this series with me?

Beloved Characters. Throughout the series, the same familiar characters appear in each book, so reading a story is like a visit with old friends. We are able to appreciate the ways in which the characters mature and how relationships deepen. In this story, Charlie emerges and we get to know him a bit better. The safety that he experiences when Mma Ramotswe takes him into her home helps us infer a lot about his childhood.

Diversity. One of the aspects I appreciate most about the series is the glimpse into the beauty and culture of every day life in Botswana. Alexander McCall Smith was born in Africa and lived and worked in Botswana for a time, and this enables him to write and make observations with an informed, nuanced, and authentic voice.

Plot. Most of the stories in the series are character driven. For me, the ones with a bit more plot (e.g. #18) are the most enjoyable. Even though the stories are heavily character driven, there is a mystery to be solved in each story, and in that respect the stories can be read as stand alones.

Themes. Important common themes appear throughout all the stories in the series, and they include compassion, kindness, graciousness, reflection, good manners, forgiveness, and inclusiveness. Readers also hear the author’s voice as he provides gentle commentary on universal issues. In this story, he offers thoughtful reflections on politics.

Recommended. I think these books can be read as stand alones (but, of course, they are richer with all the context gained from earlier stories). I can recommend The Colors of All The Cattle for fans of the series, for readers who might be looking for a character driven, gentle, relaxing, uplifting, clean read (no violence, offensive language, sex, etc.), and for those who are looking for a cultural reading experience featuring Botswana. Alexander McCall Smith does what he sets out to do really well. My recommendation comes with one qualification: I did enjoy #18 more than #19 because it was more plot driven. If you haven’t read any of the series and want to try one, I’d recommend #18 over this one. Find my 4 star review here: The House of Unexpected Sisters. If you’re looking for an intense, suspense filled thriller and unputdownable page turner, this might not be the series for you.

My Star Rating: 3 Stars


all the colors of the cattle

The Colors of All the Cattle Information Here

Meet the Author, Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe and taught law at the University of Botswana. He is now Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh. He has written more than fifty books, including a number of specialist titles, but is best known for The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, which has achieved bestseller status on four continents. In 2004 he was awarded British Book Awards Author of the Year and Booksellers Association Author of the Year. He lives in Scotland, where in his spare time he is a bassoonist in the RTO (Really Terrible Orchestra).



Are you a Mma Ramotswe fan (No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series)?  I’d love to hear if you’ve read the early books in this series.

Happy Reading Book Worms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

“I read because books are a form of transportation, of teaching, and of connection! Books take us to places we’ve never been, they teach us about our world, and they help us to understand human experience.”
~Madeleine Riley, Top Shelf Text

Looking Ahead in “Nonfiction November”

What do you have on your TBR for “Nonfiction November”?

One title that I’m seriously considering is In Pieces by Sally Field. Beginning with The Flying Nun, Sally Field has played a lifelong prominent role in my entertainment life! I’ve heard though that it’s a gritty read in places. I’m on a six month hold for this at the library, so I’m deciding whether or not I want to buy it.

In Pieces

Another consideration is the new release by Doris Kearns Goodwin, Leadership: In Turbulent Times. I’m almost certain that this is what my hubs will be reading for “Nonfiction November” as Doris Kearns Goodwin is one of his “auto buy” authors!

leadership in turbulent times

My Fall TBR

I’ll be updating my Fall TBR list as I complete each read, so check this link often!
So far I’ve read nine, and today’s review makes ten, out of my twelve titles (two more to go!).

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  1. I think I might have read one book from this series years ago but don’t remember much of it; might be time to try again. His 44 Scotland Street books are wonderful. How fascinating that he teaches Medical Law!

    I was disappointed by the Goodreads Awards as well. So many great books were eliminated or never made it to the lists. The genre break-down always puzzles me, some genres seem so obscure and others are all grouped together which narrows the chances for some great books to get recognition.

    • I’ve tried his other books and this series is still my fav of his work…maybe because I read it first?
      I’m VERY disappointed that our A Place For Us didn’t make it into the finals! 😩

  2. HI Carol– I agree with you I’ve read a handful of the #1 Detective Agency series (non lately) and tried a copule of his other books, but they lacked the charm. Fun review– you make we want to get back into them, just for some kindness and uplfting in my reading!! Are you ready for Thanksgiving?? We have kids here now and will all travel up to Ojai for 4 days on Wednesday. I’m recommending A Place for Us –for the our next set of Lit Group reads. We vote in our list every 6 months. OK, well, have a warm and wonderful Thanksgiving Carol!! xo

    • I agree that sometimes it’s nice to read something kind and charming! Right now I’m reading a kids version of a L.M.Montgomery bio……it’s kinda sad 😞 I hope your group votes in A Place For Us and that they enjoy it! Your trip to Ojai sounds like a fun family memory making adventure! I just heard though that there might be some rain in the forecast ☔️ hope you find the warmth of a fireplace and fill your hearts with lots of joy! Happy thanksgiving!

      • You are so dear Carol– thanks. I have a habit of reading kid’s biographies too!! If I want to know about someone, 500 pages of an adult biography is just too much! But with a kid’s version, you get the basics and that’s usually all I need. And- yep, it’s supposed to rain Wednesday night in Ojai–Hoping for sun on Thursday! Hope it’s a blessed day for you Carol! xo

      • Well……I’m going to review the L.M. Montgomery bio on Friday so I won’t say much now…but I definitely wouldn’t recommend this for a MG reader…..mature subject matter and very sad.
        Hope you gat sun ☀️ on Thursday! I’m looking forward to lighting the fireplace 🙌👍 happy thanksgiving with your family!

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