Friday, September 30, 2011

No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

I must admit that I am probably the last person on the planet to read Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. The premise of a mystery set in Botswana was not anything that really appealed to me. However, it is the October selection for the Mars Public Library's Friday Book Club, and so I picked it up and accepted that I would have to plow through it. After all, isn't that what book clubs are for - to force you out of your reading comfort zone. Well, it wasn't a chore and I freely admit that I truly enjoyed the book.

After the death of her father and as a result of selling his cattle, Mma. Precious Ramotswe takes her inheritance and sets up the first detective agency run by a woman in Botswana. McCall Smith sets the scene through flashbacks and a very detailed narrative by Ramotswe 's father. By these words the reader has all the description necessary to picture the setting of the novels, the physical attributes of the characters, and the culture of the country. After the scene is set we are ready to accompany Ramotswe as she solves mysteries in her home town of Gaborone. She is hired to help find a missing husband, discover what a teen-age girl does after school, uncover insurance fraud, and rescue a young boy from kidnappers. She has a circle of friends on whom she can rely and in whom she can confide, but it's not an easy go for a woman in this field. One of the most memorable scenes finds MMaRamotswe driving down an isolated road when she encounters a cobra. Her tiny white van hits it and it becomes entangled with the motor. She contemplates the best way to rid herself of the snake and hopes that she will live to see her being able to continue on her journey.

Ramotswe is a bit reminiscent of Miss Marple, tho much more rotund. McCall Smith, originally from Zimbabwe and now living in Edinburgh, Scotland, is well steeped in the English mystery. However, what shines through in this novel is his sense of dry English humour. The reader does chuckle at his use of words and the situations in which Ramotswe finds herself. The novel is really a series of vignettes rather than a book in which a central plot is developed. This is the charm of this first book in the series and I would assume the hallmark of the next 12 in the series. The books ends with a twist and an incentive to read the next installment.

I definitely intend to read more of this series, but it is not at the top of the "To Be Read" list. Too many books and so little time.

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