May 21st, 2012


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

The only female detective in Botswana hangs out her shingle.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Polygon, 1998, 250 pages

This remarkably fresh and charming best seller took the world by storm upon its publication. It has since earned two Booker Judges' Special Recommendations and was voted one of the "International Books of the Year and the Millennium" by the Times Literary Supplement.

Mma "Precious" Ramotswe sets up a detective agency in Botswana on the edge of the Kalahari Desert, making her the only female detective in the country. At first, cases are hard to come by. But eventually, troubled people come to Precious with a variety of concerns. Potentially philandering husbands, seemingly schizophrenic doctors, and a missing boy who may have been killed by witch doctors all compel Precious to roam about in her tiny van, searching for clues.

Chosen as a Top Ten Mystery by the Organization of Independent Booksellers, U.S.A., The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is that rare novel that imparts a sage wisdom while inspiring hearty laughter and lasting smiles.

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Verdict: A series of light entertainment featuring Botswana's finest lady detective — what's not to love? The "mysteries" here are strictly low-rent, at least in the first book: Precious Ramotswe is a Jessica Fletcher or a Miss Marple, but with fewer murders to solve. Like many mystery series, its attraction is the main character and the setting, and, to my eye, Alexander McCall Smith renders decent service to both.

My complete list of book reviews.