Book Review

The no.1 ladies’ detective agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Dear book lovers

To be completely honest, I have had a tough week at work. It was long, demanding, included travelling, and more. I did not have a chance to write a personal blog post. But, as usual, my dear and now standing contributor Ken saved me. It is not like something bad would happen if I do not blog once a week. However this is a level of consistency I am committed to. Also when you are so overwhelmed with the readers’ reactions, comments, shares, and likes – you feel that you have no choice but honor every reader’s expectations. Ken reviewed a book I have not read. His review will surely make me read it. I hope it does that to you too. Enjoy.

For those of you who enjoy crime novels but not the hard-nosed macho violence that goes with them, this is the book for you.

Or rather books: 19 of them as well as a TV dramatisation written by Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral) and directed by Anthony Minghella (The English Patient). Each book contains a number of short, entertaining stories about rural and small-town life in Gaborone, Botswana. They revolve around comic misunderstandings, coming-of-age scenes and family narratives, as well as crime investigations. The stories celebrate humility and politeness as well as traditional communities coming to terms with the modern age.

The opening chapter of The No 1. Ladies’ Detective Agency introduces the series’ main character Precious Ramotswe. She is formally known as Mme Mma Ramotswe  (“the right thing for a person of stature, but which she never used of herself. So it was always Mma Ramotswe, rather than Precious Ramotswe”).

When her father died, Precious sold the 180 cattle she inherited and set up in business as Botswana’s only female private detective. The first chapter of the first book sets the scene: the story of her father, who got his start working in the mines, her childhood, her disastrous marriage and the setting up of the agency.

And when jobs start coming in, there’s no single mystery but a variety of cases: a missing husband, a wayward teenager daughter, a strangely behaving doctor and a kidnapped boy.

Several things make The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency enjoyable to read. There is Precious herself, who is human in her uncertainties and doubts. There’s McCall Smith’s understated, gentle and effective humour. And there’s the setting — Gaborone and the Kalahari, witchcraft and crocodiles and the rhythms of ordinary Botswanan life.

The stories are told by either a wise third-person narrator or Mma Ramotswe herself: “They are my people, my brothers and sisters. It is my duty to help them to solve the mysteries in their lives”. Her type of detective work then is to offer people informal assistance in resolving personal difficulties, rather than carrying out formal criminal investigations.

To give you an insight into her unique style, in the opening chapter of the series, Mma is called upon by Happy Bapetsi whose estranged father (or so it seems) has turned up and moved in with her, taking advantage of her hospitality. In a faintly comic scene, Mma Ramotswe uses folk wisdom to trick the imposter into revealing himself.

I first discovered The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency when I left home and family to work in the Middle East. It was a lonely time there to begin with, but the stories were warm and comforting like drinking a mug of hot chocolate to promote sleep. If you enjoy a good book before bedtime, I highly recommend this one.

Who should read this book: Those looking for comforting stories

Why you should read this book: To enjoy a good read before going to sleep

Book genre: Crime novel

Rating by Stylo à Bille

woman in blue striped flannel shirt holding a book indoors
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