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The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Book 1) Paperback – February 6, 2003
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From Publishers Weekly
The African-born author of more than 50 books, from children's stories (The Perfect Hamburger) to scholarly works (Forensic Aspects of Sleep), turns his talents to detection in this artful, pleasing novel about Mma (aka Precious) Ramotswe, Botswana's one and only lady private detective. A series of vignettes linked to the establishment and growth of Mma Ramotswe's "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" serve not only to entertain but to explore conditions in Botswana in a way that is both penetrating and light thanks to Smith's deft touch. Mma Ramotswe's cases come slowly and hesitantly at first: women who suspect their husbands are cheating on them; a father worried that his daughter is sneaking off to see a boy; a missing child who may have been killed by witchdoctors to make medicine; a doctor who sometimes seems highly competent and sometimes seems to know almost nothing about medicine. The desultory pace is fine, since she has only a detective manual, the frequently cited example of Agatha Christie and her instincts to guide her. Mma Ramotswe's love of Africa, her wisdom and humor, shine through these pages as she shines her own light on the problems that vex her clients. Images of this large woman driving her tiny white van or sharing a cup of bush tea with a friend or client while working a case linger pleasantly. General audiences will welcome this little gem of a book just as much if not more than mystery readers.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
“The Miss Marple of Botswana.” The New York Times Book Review
“Smart and sassy...Precious’ progress is charted in passages that have the power to amuse or shock or touch the heart, sometimes all at once.” Los Angeles Times
“The author’s prose has the merits of simplicity, euphony and precision. His descriptions leave one as if standing in the Botswana landscape. This is art that conceals art. I haven’t read anything with such alloyed pleasure for a long time.” Anthony Daniels, The Sunday Telegraph
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Top Customer Reviews
Other annoying tics are also evident this early: the ones that annoy me most are the continued generalisations about "men" and "women" that feminist thinking gave up somewhere about 1975, the inconsistency - Mma Ramotswe is supposed to have sold all of her father's cattle here to set up the Detective Agency, but in later books it turns out she only sold "some" and next thing she has a fullscale cattle-post again. And I seem to remember in this book that Obed Ramotswe has "180" cattle, whereas by book 16 or so these have mushroomed into "2000." Hell of a good calving rate there, Rra Smith.
And finally, a small but repeatedly irritating tic, of failing to give enduring but relatively minor characters *names.* Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni has two apprentices. One gets a name about book 3, and the other only gets one by about book 8. While the woman who *raised* Mma Ramotswe - actually looked after her on a day-to-day all-day basis, rather than swanning in from the cattle now and again - who taught her the powers of observation that make her a successful detective, and taught her literacy and numeracy at an early state, is never known as anything but "the cousin."
Even up in the latest book, *Precious and Grace,* these two women have names, but "the cousin" does not. As time goes on and I do re-read this series, or pick up the new ones, this seeming minor blot comes to irritate me more and more. This series seems woman-friendly, but in fact, it's far less so once you start digging. And this particular lapse, that vital women in the characters' previous generation never get names, seems a classic case of women's erasure in the past. And that means that any visibility in the present will be, as has proven only too often the case, only temporary. So, on review, only two stars, Rra McCall Smith.
Each of these books picks up and drops a single overall case, separating each phase of its solution with chapters dealing mostly with other cases that can be solved more quickly. Each case requires some ingenious thinking and a deep understanding of local culture and practices and, of course, of basic human nature. In spite of having to deal with darker events such as kidnapping, witchcraft, impersonation, philandering, insurance fraud and employee theft, there is something life-affirming about the heroine's approach to each case and in the way she stays 'centered' as a human being. Readers looking for a 'cozy' mystery series that is not set in England will very much enjoy this series!
Mma Ramatsu is absolutely wonderful. I am a mystery lover, which is why I bought the first one. These are not what I'd usually call real mysteries, though, although there are simple mysteries. It is a detective agency, after all!, But mostly they are long glimpses into the heart of a very good woman. Thinking Mma Ramatsu's thoughts after her have made me a better and more contemplative person, I think.
If you're hemming and hahing about reading it like I did for several months, just go for it. It's delightful whipped cream on the top of hot chocolate.
Liked it so much I'll probably buy the next one or three.