Thursday, November 3, 2011

Review: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Reviewed by Connie

Published: 2003

It's about: This book (and the subsequent 11 books in the series) narrates the adventures of Mma Precious Ramotswe, an African woman of "traditional build" (also referred to as a "fat woman"), who opens up a detective agency in Botswana, becoming the first and only lady detective in the country.

I thought: I was turned off by this book for a long time. Not being particularly interested in mystery and also wary of popular fiction and "bestsellers", I steered clear of this book for many years before getting off my high horse and deciding to give it a shot (in other words, I live in a tiny town with a library that has a VERY limited selection of audio books, and this was one of the only slightly appealing options). I have to say, I am glad that I did!

I found the novel and its protagonist surprisingly fresh and endearing. This is not your typical detective fiction, featuring a know-it-all detective who's made out to be much smarter than you and figures out the mystery chapters before Sherlock -- excuse me, I mean he or she -- reveals it all rather condescendingly, at which point the reader has the ooooooooh! moment. Though many enjoy these types of books, I have no patience for them.

Instead, McCall Smith gives us Precious Ramotswe, an average woman with good instincts who is training herself to be more perceptive. She doesn't always know what she's doing (Two of her first jobs "tailing" someone resulted in the subjects approaching her and asking why she was following them), and the reader figures out little mysteries along with her, and they certainly aren't devoid of humor.

The book also addresses concerns specific to its setting, Botswana, which added another level to the narrative. Though not a native, the author lived there for many years and so has some degree of authority.

To briefly mention the less-than-wonderful aspects, even as one who studies women's studies and literature, I grew tired in the first half of the book of the many, many cases that had to do with how horrible men are. Also, I am not convinced that the author developed Mma Ramotswe fully enough to justify the ending, for those who have read it -- I don't want to give anything away.

Verdict: Stick it on the shelf 

Reading Recommendations: This is a light, fun read for my fellow mystery fiction skeptics.

Warnings: None

What I'm reading next: The Honk and Holler Opening Soon by Billie Letts