Saturday, February 2, 2008

The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith
4 stars

I've been meaning to read this one for some time - despite being disappointed in a few of his books recently, I like Alexander McCall Smith. And it seems as if this series has charmed just about everyone. I haven't heard a bad word spoken against it. And I was quite charmed, too. [Note, I may have a few spoilers here, so don't read on if you plan to read this one. But I have a feeling I'm one of the few people left who hadn't read it!]

I was surprised, though, to find horrific incidents sprinkled throughout what I thought was going to be basically a cozy mystery - Precious' husband is a violent rapist who tries to kill their unborn child, then leaves her. While Smith and Precious both love Botswana, there are still references, mostly subtle, to Africa's problems - AIDS, corrupt police, smuggling, etc.

But Precious definitely lives up to her name - she's very clever, funny and has a heart as big as her "traditional" frame. It was quite interesting and rather funny to see a fat lady be admired, for a change, and I could imagine Precious' large frame sailing through town on her missions. I did wonder, however, how she could remain a private private detective when everyone in the area knew her and she was rather hard to miss.

I also found some funny touches in the names of businesses (include the name of the agency) caused by English not being the native language in Botswana. My favourite was the Go Go Handsome Man's Bar, but I also got a kick out Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors.

I liked that there were smaller, mostly gentler cases mixed in with the larger case of the kidnapped boy. My favourite was the one about the doctor that seemed to be incredibly forgetful but was actually a set of twins. I enjoyed how Precious used her instincts, feminine wiles, and the knowledge she gleaned from both Agatha Christie novels and the PI manual she sends away for. And, of course, I liked that the kidnapped boy was found safe and sound.

An African lady written by a Scottish man seems fairly implausible, but McCall Smith is in fine form. While the sequels aren't right at the top of my TBR list, I have a feeling I'll be visiting the Agency again.

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