Reading journal on The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Book 5 in my first 52 books challenge.
Originally published in several parts on February 22-22, 2004.

Entry 1:

Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Published: 1998
Where got: public library
Genre: Detective novel

Reason for choosing:
I first read about this book in a book review in one of the daily newspapers in Iceland. The title caught my attention and I decided that such an unusual and humorous name was very promising as to the contents of the book. So far I have not been disappointed (after reading chapter one).

Entry 2:

I'm quite enjoying the book so far.

Here are some links with information about the author and some of his other works:

About the series
Publisher's website, dedicated to the series

Entry 3:

"I love all the people whom God made, but I especially know how to love the people who live in this place. They are my people, my brothers and sisters. It is my duty to help them to solve the mysteries in their lives. That is what I am called to do."

There is something enchanting about the way Alexander McCall Smith puts these words into the mouth of his private detective heroine, Precious Ramotswe.

The book is more a collection of interconnected sketches than a continuous narrative. It moves backwards and forwards in time, telling the story of Precious and some of the people connected to her, in a simple and flowing style. Background information is dispersed throughout the book and you slowly get to know about Precious' past and the experiences that have brought her to the point where she decided to set up a detective agency.

Armed with her intuition, a manual for private detectives, and minimal assets that would make any American or European private eye hand in his licence on the spot, she starts the business with money inherited from her father. The book is about her first cases, which range from a cheating husband to a missing one, a variety of con men to expose and a missing boy who may have been murdered to make magic amulets. She solves (or in some cases doesn't solve) the cases to her customer's satisfaction (sometimes not), through intuition and knowledge of human nature, occasionally resorting to lying and sneaking about in search of clues.

The image you get of her is that of a woman who has learned to accept life as it is, whether it be happy or sad, and has not let the suffering she has lived through get her down. The descriptions of her and other character's reactions to misfortune are quite matter-of-fact, giving you an idea of a people who accept suffering with equanimity, much as they rejoice in good fortune.

The humour is sly and sneaks up on you, like the following:
"Now constipation was quite a different matter. It would be dreadful for the whole world to know about troubles of that nature. She felt terribly sorry for people who suffered from constipation, and she knew that there were many who did. There were probably enough of them to form a political party - with a chance of government perhaps - but what would such a party do if it was in power? Nothing, she imagined. It would try to pass legislation, but would fail."

I like it that the author has made his heroine a non-traditional one. Writing a story about a fat lady who runs a detective agency in Africa is an original idea and the author definitely took a risk with it. I'm sure he can have had no idea that it would become such a hit, or that people would be crying out for more of the same. There are now five book in the series and its popularity just keeps on growing.

Favourite quote:
"Nobody was missing, nobody was cheating on their wives, nobody was embezzling. At such times, a private detective may as well hang a closed sign on the office door and go off to plant melons."

Great and unusual detective novel that convinces the reader that maybe she too can become a private eye. 4 stars.


Dorte H said…
Great post!

I enjoyed the book a lot though this is a minus in my opinion: "The book is more a collection of interconnected sketches than a continuous narrative."

Generally I have become more fond of cozy mysteries since I began blogging, and a great part of their appeal is characters and environment.
Bibliophile said…
I think characters and environment are very important for mysteries.

Unfortunately this series started annoying me after about 4 books, so I have stopped reading it, but I may go back some day and finish the books I have left.

Popular Posts