Friday, August 30, 2013

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

7061Title: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Date Read: August 15, 2013
Series: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #1

Summary: Working in a mystery tradition that will cause genre aficionados to think of such classic sleuths as Melville Davisson Post's Uncle Abner or Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee, Alexander McCall Smith creates an African detective, Precious Ramotswe, who's their full-fledged heir.

It's the detective as folk hero, solving crimes through an innate, self-possessed wisdom that, combined with an understanding of human nature, invariably penetrates into the heart of a puzzle. If Miss Marple were fat and jolly and lived in Botswana--and decided to go against any conventional notion of what an unmarried woman should do, spending the money she got from selling her late father's cattle to set up a Ladies' Detective Agency--then you have an idea of how Precious sets herself up as her country's first female detective.

Once the clients start showing up on her doorstep, Precious enjoys a pleasingly successful series of cases. But the edge of the Kalahari is not St. Mary Mead, and the sign Precious orders, painted in brilliant colors, is anything but discreet. Pointing in the direction of the small building she had purchased to house her new business, it reads "THE NO. 1 LADIES DETECTIVE AGENCY. FOR ALL CONFIDENTIAL MATTERS AND ENQUIRIES. SATISFACTION GUARANTEED FOR ALL PARTIES. UNDER PERSONAL MANAGEMENT."

The solutions she comes up with, whether in the case of the clinic doctor with two quite different personalities (depending on the day of the week), or the man who had joined a Christian sect and seemingly vanished, or the kidnapped boy whose bones may or may not be those in a witch doctor's magic kit, are all sensible, logical, and satisfying. Smith's gently ironic tone is full of good humor towards his lively, intelligent heroine and towards her fellow Africans, who live their lives with dignity and with cautious acceptance of the confusions to which the world submits them. Precious Ramotswe is a remarkable creation, and The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency well deserves the praise it received from London's Times Literary Supplement. goodreads

Review: This is a very sweet, easy read. It's quick, about 152 nook pages (which could translate to anything in real book pages,) and the story moves along pretty rapidly. The best part of this book, and the only real reason it rated a 3, is Precious Ramotswe. Who couldn't love Mma. Ramotswe? She is a genuine, hard working, strong, female who stands up for what's right. I believe this is not the norm in Africa where they tend to be very traditional and it is something that Precious has to constantly stand up for. It's apparent from the beginning that Precious cares very much for the people around her. I love her relationship with her Daddy and it's clear what a big part in her life he played as well as the pride she puts into what she does which is a sort of homage to him. She also cares a lot about her clients and their well being. She puts them first when it comes to the world and whichever case she is working on which may be what lead to all of her rapid success.

This rapid success is one of the things that bothered me in the book though. Not the fact that she was successful, but the fact that she very quickly, and easily, solved all of the cases in this book. They were obviously not the focus of the novel but it just seemed too easy. I would have liked more adventure. With that being said, the cases did provide an interesting look into the various aspects of African culture which I found interesting. I know very little (if anything) about the African culture and geography and this book made me want to learn more about it.

There was so much suffering in Africa that it was tempting just to shrug your shoulders and walk away. But you can't do that, she thought. You just can't.

I also didn't like how the story ended. It had me wondering what the hold up the whole time was and why at the end she finally agreed (I'm avoiding spoilers if this doesn't make sense....) Overall, I loved Precious and her fiesty-ness but was not overly impressed with the writing and will probably not continue in the series.


  1. I had rather mixed feelings toward this book as well. It was very different from what I was expecting, and I enjoyed reading it while it lasted (once I realized that it was nothing like what I'd expected). But, like you, I don't think I'll continue the series.

    1. That's exactly how I felt! It wasn't what I expected but it was enjoyable for what it was.