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Book Review: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Pub. Date: February 2003
Format: Paperback, 240pp
Publisher: Knopf Publishing Group
Personal Rating: 3.5/5
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith reminds me of nothing less that Donald J. Sobol�s (creator of Encyclopedia Brown) two-minute mysteries. In Sobol�s short story collection, a simple case is described, and the reader is asked to solve it based on the clues provided. The answer was often overly simple, although many readers failed to recognize it.

Smith has taken the idea of the simple mystery, fleshed it out with thoughts and praises of Africa and particularly Botswana, and made the easy mystery fun again. Smith�s main character, Precious Ramotswe, is a lovable, fat, sometimes silly, but always perceptive private detective in Botswana, a country on the East Coast of Africa, just north of South Africa. Mma Ramotswe as she is more appropriately known (Mma being like Mrs. for English speakers.) has set up a detective agency on the proceeds of her father�s death. This is strange in a male-dominated society, but Mma Ramotswe makes an excellent go at it, solving several mysteries along the way to a climax that brings down an important figure in Botswana society. Sort of like an African Miss Marple.

Although not short stories like Sobol�s, Smith�s mystery novel has the taste of them. The chapters read like individual stories, although Smith elegantly weaves them together with an overarching plot line involving a missing boy and the illegal (but prevalent) practice of witchcraft.

Smith�s obvious love for Africa and Botswana come out in his heartfelt depictions of Africa, as seen by Mma Ramotswe. Americans will get a look into a culture both like and unlike our own. Smith shows the reader how Africans appreciate beauty in different ways, how their truly chauvinist society highlights our own freedoms, and how Africa, both the people and the land are something to be valued.

I enjoyed The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, although I don�t feel it lived up to its mystery label. I felt this more to be a fiction story about Africa, with simple mysteries a way of moving plot forward and allowing back story highlighting African history and culture. Still, Precious Ramotswe is a likable character, and fans of Agatha Christie�s Miss Marple are likely the readers who drove this book to the top of the National Bestseller lists.

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