By Alexander McCall Smith (Pantheon, 242 pages, $24.95.)

With the 14th book in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, Alexander McCall Smith's musings about Precious Ramotswe and her beloved Botswana seem increasingly introspective. His newest, "The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon," has its share of minor mysteries and a touch of evil — even a snake — but the soul of this book is about relationships. Much of the story revolves around Mma Ramotswe's increasing realization that her sidekick, Mma Makutsi, who has to leave work for awhile, is an indispensable part of the detective agency. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni makes a fumbling attempt to be a better husband, and even the foolish garage apprentice, Charlie, displays an unexpected tender side. Mma Ramotswe's internal ruminations on the nature of friendship, marriage and family form the core of this gentle story, a welcome addition for fans of the series.

Mary Jane Smetanka, reporter