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

Review: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall SmithThe No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
Series: No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency #1
Published by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group on December 16, 1998
Pages: 235
Goodreads |

Fans around the world adore the bestselling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the basis of the HBO TV show, and its proprietor Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective.  In this charming series, Mma  Ramotswe navigates her cases and her personal life with wisdom, and good humor—not to mention help from her loyal assistant, Grace Makutsi, and the occasional cup of tea. 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 witch-doctors. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency received two Booker Judges’ Special Recommendations and was voted one of the International Books of the Year and the Millennium by the Times Literary Supplement.From the Trade Paperback edition.

The only thing I had heard about this book when I picked it up at the library was that my mother-in-law loved it. I guess I also knew it was a HBO miniseries. I’m glad I did hear of it though because I really enjoyed reading it.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is a quiet book. The narrative is actually quite different from what I expected. It’s written more like a series of interconnected vignettes than as a cohesive novel. The writing style is also minimalistic. At first, I wasn’t sure what to think of the writing because it was so different from what I expected, but as I read more, I grew to love the experimental style.

Precious Romatswe is a funny, three-dimensional character. She may not be the best sleuth there is, but she certainly shows a lot of logic. And really, what’s detective work more than just thinking through the logical answers? I couldn’t help but compare her to other fictional detectives. That’s where I went wrong. I think The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is less about a thrilling mystery and more about telling the story of everyday mysteries. I would consider this book “realism,” I suppose. I mean, it’s not your typical mystery/thriller. It’s more about Botswana and the people of Botswana than anything else. There’s a lot of pride exhibited in this book.

I have one trouble with this book. I’m not sure how I fell about Alexander McCall Smith, a white man, writing about a black woman. He is African (Zimbabwean). Writing about Botswana isn’t the problem. It’s obvious that Smith has a lot of respect for the country and for the continent. What I’m bothered by is a white man trying to convey the experience of a black woman. There’s this buzzing in the back of my head that’s telling me there’s something wrong. I suppose it’s an issue of colonialism. Should the colonizer write about the experience of the colonized? I think it’s problematic, though I’m struggling to tell you why. It’s because I’m not sure myself. I hesitate labeling this with the #weneeddiversebooks. I don’t think this qualifies. But I suppose it does qualify for the Book Riot’s Read Harder Challenge. Smith *is* an author from Africa, though I’m not sure that’s what they meant. I’ll count it, but I think I’m going to find another book to read in that category too.

Despite my confusing and polemic thoughts on race, I did enjoy this book. I’m not sure that I’ll read the rest of the series until I figure out where I stand, but I do feel comfortable recommending this book to people looking for a nice lady detective trying to make something of herself. The vignettes are funny and heartwarming.

© 2015 – 2016, Jessica Workman Holland. All rights reserved.