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Book Review – No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith – 4 Stars

Book cover - No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Book cover – No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

A kind colleague here in Trondheim, Norway, took pity on me for not having any books with me until our belongings arrive from home (Canberra, Australia) and offered to lend me Alexander McCall Smith’s first book in the series of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

I’ve seen books from this series in 2nd hand book sales but never bought any. The writing style is naive and simple to understand.

The protagonist is Precious Ramotswe, a 35 year old woman who has inherited her father’s wealth (which is cattle). She sold the cattle and started a detective agency. There is a funny scene on her father’s death-bed when he says that he wants her to sell the cattle and buy a business. Precious responds:

I’m going to set up a detective agency… It will be the best one in Botswana.

For a moment her father’s eyes opened wide and it seemed as if he was struggling to speak.

‘But… but…’

Precious’ mother died when she was two and she was raised by her father and her father’s cousin. She had an exceptional memory, especially for numbers and found work in accounting. She made the terrible mistake of falling for an abusive man named Note Mokoti who raped and beat her on a date. Precious became pregnant from that horrible encounter and she decided to marry him

She lived for her meetings with Note… He was not a good man, she could tell that, but she might change him. And when all was said and done, there remained those dark moments of contact, those pleasures that he snatched from her, which were addictive… She felt ashamed even to think of it, but she liked what he did to her, the humiliation, the urgency.

Note beat her so badly that Precious needed a lot of stitches and thankfully he chose to abandon her while she was at the hospital.

Precious recovered from her failed and abusive marriage and the death of her prematurely born baby and lived with dignity as she cared for her father who suffered and died young after working in diamond mines in South Africa. Her detective agency started slowly but Precious is well-connected in the high society of Gaborone, Botswana and she soon became famous for solving mysteries.

McCall Smith shares some endearing mysteries that Precious solves, for me the funniest one is ‘The Boyfriend’ case. Some of them made me sick to my stomach with the snarling darkness of bad behaviour associated with a misogynistic culture still anchored in black magic and witch doctors.

Precious is an endearing character. She is a woman with progressive ideas while honouring the culture of her people. She is a “traditionally-built African lady,” and moves through the male-dominated culture of Botswana with grace and style. She’s comfortable as herself, proud of her accomplishments, and filled with unquenchable love for her homeland and its people. She loves to sip bush tea and chat with her friends. She has no qualifications for solving mysteries but uses common sense, listens carefully, reads the newspaper from cover-to-cover and uses her connections to gain more information. My favourite passages in the book are when she speaks of her love of Botswana.

This line resonated with me, living as an expat:

people thrown together in the artificial closeness of the expatriate life, talking about home.

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2 comments on “Book Review – No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith – 4 Stars

  1. Teresa Hooper
    September 3, 2015

    I have read these books and found them easy reading. Enjoyed the descriptions of Botswana particularly as I have briefly been there. I have to admit that I could not have described them as you have.

    • strivetoengage
      September 3, 2015

      Hi! Do you suggest that I read more of the books in the series?

      Wow, it’s great that you’ve been to Botswana. I haven’t been to Africa at all yet but I am friends with the previous ambassador from Botswana and I studied my PhD with a lecturer from there so I’ve had great experiences with Botswanan people! I learnt more about the history and culture from the book.

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This entry was posted on September 3, 2015 by in fiction and tagged , , , , , .
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