Review of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Overview from www.barnesandnoble.com: 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 problems in their lives.” Immediately upon setting up shop in 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 a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witchdoctors.
As luck would have it, I stumbled upon this book at the library the other day when I only came there to use their printer. Ever since I read McCall Smith’s other series (Portuguese Irregular Verbs), I had wanted to give this one a try but I wanted to start it from the beginning.
We begin with our main character Precious Ramotswe, a thirty-something woman living in Botswana who has just inherited a very valuable heard of cattle from her dying father. She sells them and with the proceeds decides to open the first detective agency in her country to have a woman at the helm.
There are a few slight detours into other characters’ lives but on the whole we focus on Mma Ramotswe and her efforts to help her clients sort through the mysteries in their lives.
The story is told in much the same style as McCall Smith’s other series, that is in little vignettes (centering mostly around her cases), but it seemed less humorous too me. And for good reason, I think. Some of these stories are heart-breaking. Others are just mildly amusing.
I don’t know how authentic the characters are compared with the people who actually live in Botswana but the author appears to know more about the place than I do. I know, that’s not saying much but that’s all I can say.
I can say that I liked the character of Precious Ramotswe. She seems to be a truly kind person who cares about the lives of her neighbors and her clients. Reading her back-story of her troubled marriage made me truly sympathetic to her goal of wanting to succeed as the first lady detective in her country.
It was that sympathy that later made me fearful for her life when she got mixed up in the case of a boy who she feared was probably taken by a witch doctor. I can see how she would make an ideal protagonist for a series.
I am still not sure that I will continue to read this series yet or not. There was an enticing ending, though not the kind I expected. And I did like the story.
However, I did not love it. As I said earlier, it was not as funny for me as Portuguese Irregular Verbs but it had its own charm and pacing. I might give the second one a try yet. And I am recommending it as a good light summer read.
Contains: some violence, sexuality