At a Glance: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
What it’s about (via Goodreads):
Precious Ramotswe in Botswana sits in the shade and ponders the wisdom of her cattle farmer father, observes her neighbors, and cares for employers and subjects with humor. A clinic doctor has two different personalities depending on the day of the week. A Christian sect member vanishes. A witch doctor may have the bones of a kidnapped boy in his magic kit.
And from the back of the book:
This first novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s widely acclaimed The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series tells the story of the delightfully cunning and enormously engaging Precious Ramotswe, who is drawn to her profession to “help people with the problems in their lives.” Immediately upon setting up shop in a a small storefront in Gaborone, she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. But the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is that of a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witch doctors.
What I thought:
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency has been on my “must-get-to-eventually” list for a long, long time. I’m not much of a mystery fan, and were it not for a couple of book challenges this year, I might not have picked this one up for a while yet.
In any case, I’m glad that I did. Precious Ramotswe is a charming, wise, and good-natured character, a strong woman operating in a man’s world, who holds her own and then some. She gets results for her clients — not through strong-arm tactics, but by using what she sees as a woman’s gifts: her keen observations, her patience, her understanding of people, and most importantly, her insights into what people ask for and what they really want.
Along the way, we learn a great deal about life in Botswana, and get a feel for the country’s rhythms, its people, and its landscapes. Mma Ramotswe loves her country, and through her eyes, we see its beauty and its pleasures.
The small mysteries Mma Ramotswe solves are puzzles of human nature, and her approach (which she credits both to Agatha Christie and to a private detective manual which she uses as a guide) is simply to follow her heart and her brain to figure out what all these interesting people are up to.
All in all, I’m quite glad that I read this book. The first in a series of 15 books (with more to come, I presume), The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency makes a great start by introducing a lead character and a setting that are both quite remarkable. As I’ve mentioned, I’m not normally much of a mystery reader, so while I don’t intend to continue with the series right away, that’s not a knock against the series, just a function of my own reading preferences.
For those who enjoy “cozy” mysteries and want to try an unusual setting, I’d recommend giving The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency a try. In its own understated way, it’s quite a fun and engaging read.
Title: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Publisher: Anchor Books
Publication date: 1998
Length: 235 pages