Alexander McCall Smith’s writing soothes my soul! I don’t know how else to describe it. I found that reading The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency had a tremendously calming effect on me. In simple no-frills language, through delightful little tales told via solid characters, he speaks profoundly about life, reminding us about the things that are actually important.
And he uses such a beautiful setting and a beautiful people to do so. You can truly feel his love and appreciation for Botswana and its people. In fact it leaves you yearning to visit the place, even if you have never set foot in Africa before!
In this post I have reviewed the first 3 books of the series.
Book 1: THE NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY (My rating: 5 / 5)
In the first book of the series, we are introduced to Precious Ramotswe, “the only lady private detective in Botswana”. We learn about her childhood and her personal life and how she came to open her detective agency. The rest of the book is mainly filled with Mma Ramotswe’s unusual cases and her even more unusual methods of solving them, all related to us with delicate humour. McCall Smith also introduces us to the landscape, culture, customs and way of life of the people of Botswana. Well, actually, it is more than a mere introduction – he really takes us there!
Mma Ramotswe is an empowered, secure, single woman, with sound values and a sensible head, except when it comes to helping others, for then she often lets her big heart and not her head choose which cases to take.
Book 2: TEARS OF THE GIRAFFE (My rating: 3 / 5)
In contrast to the first book of the series, the second one somehow felt more like a traditional detective novel, with the main mystery containing the elements of sinister motives, guilty secrets, adultery and danger.
Like with any good series, we see the characters grow and change as things change around them. We witness the development in the relationship of Mma Ramotswe and J.L.B Matekoni, who both change with and adjust to the new roles they have decided to play in each other’s lives. Yet at the same time we also understand more clearly what it is that has brought them together – their common beliefs of doing what is right, practicing ‘old fashioned’ manners, and most importantly their abundantly generous hearts.
This book too, like the first, is full of life’s big (and little) questions and the moral conundrums that we all find ourselves in only too often.
My favourite line of the book or rather the line that touched me the most is on Pg 121, when the little orphan girl, Motholeli, is reflecting on her life, the death of her mother and how she had found herself in a strange place after that: “Perhaps one day she would find a place where she would stay. That would be good. To know that the place you were in was your own place – where you should be.”
Book 3: MORALITY FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS (My rating: 4 / 5)
In the third book Precious Ramotswe seems to be facing problems wherever she turns, in her professional and personal lives. She has to constantly juggle and re-prioritise equally important things on her “to do” list. This is especially difficult for a person like Mma Ramotswe, who takes all her commitments very seriously and always wants to do the right thing.
“It was a difficult list: every task on it had an element of urgency and yet there was a limited number of hours in a day.” I smiled as I read that line on Pg 91, since I have felt exactly that way the past year.
Yet Mma Ramotswe is the kind of person who makes the best of a tough situation and doesn’t fall apart, but pushes on till a suitable solution is found. In that sense, she reminds me a lot of my mother.
In this book, which, as usual, sees Mma Ramotswe being approached with unusual mysteries to be solved, the supporting characters are also explored a bit further, such as Mma Makutsi for example. Relevant and real problems, such as depression are also touched upon.
I personally related to a lot of the goings on and Mma Ramotswe’s various predicaments in this book.
“She sighed. It was unlike her to sit and stare at a wall, and for a moment the thought crossed her mind that she, too, might be becoming depressed. But the thought passed quickly; it would be out of the question for Mma Ramotswe to become ill. Everything depended on her: the garage, the agency, the children, Mr. J.L.B Matekoni, Mma Makutsi – not to mention Mma Makutsi’s people up in Bobonong. She simply could not afford the time to be ill. So she rose to her feet, straightened her dress, and made her way to the telephone on the other side of the room.”
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series is a joy to read and is perfect when you need to read something soothing, yet intelligent, to take your mind off things, when on holiday or when you are looking for something to get you out of a reading slump.