The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is the first in a series of books, published in 1998 about a young woman Mma Precious Ramotswe* who after the death of her father and abusive marriage, decides to set up shop as Botswana’s one and only lady detective, much to her father’s disapproval. Along the way, she is presented with many a mystery that she is determined to solve. Armed with her faithful assistant and little white van, this unafraid, candidly spoken lady aims to be the best lady detective in the country.
The series was written by Scottish Author Alexander McCall Smith beginning in 1998 with the latest addition to the series being published recently in 2017. The series has been adapted for both radio and television.
McCall Smith has a writing style that is simple and engaging. I loved the ease with which he described looking out into the fields of cattle and the Kalahari, effortless and unexacting. His writing evokes the kind of simplicity that lacks the ornament of verbose narration. Rather it seems virtuous, almost proverbial, as though each case was like a fable that conveyed a moral at the end such as; Don’t Cheat, Be Honest. It was this somewhat fable-like tone of the story, told in a mostly expository manner, that at times made it feel a bit mechanical and dull.
McCall creates likeable characters whose heroism resides in their relatability such as; Obed, J.L.B. Matekoni and the No. 1 Lady detective herself, the latter of which carries an air of integrity in all of her dealings, even if it’s something as mundane as pouring her clients a cup of red bush tea. She is the perfect heroine; strong, a bastion of justice, determined. She is not intimidated by rank and prestige, as evidenced in her dealings with the wealthy impressionable Mr Patel. Her character appeals to an audience overwhelmingly under-represented in literature, and this makes her character striking and memorable.
I loved how upbeat the ending was. It wasn’t the standard; ‘And they all lived happily ever after,’ ending. It was such that set up the rest of the series perfectly and peaked your interest at the end. I think that The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is a very simple, light story that is paced extremely well. It carries undertones of proverbial wisdom that appeals to a varied audience of readers.
I rate The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency…
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*Mini disclaimer: I haven’t the slightest clue how to pronounce Mma or its counterpart Rra.