* Prices may differ from that shown
The Ladies No 1 detective Agency books were recommended to me by a friend who told me they are a lovely light read. The first one I came across was "In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, " which is apparently the 6th in the series,nevertheless I enjoyed it very much, and I don't think this matters, as the series is easy to dip in to, and enjoy.
First, a word about the author, previously unknown to me. Alexander McCall Smith is a Zimbabwean born Scottish writer, and Emeritus Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh. He was born in 1948, same year as me. This particular novel is set in the country of Botswana,this is a landlocked country near to Rhodesia, with spectacular scenary and wildlife,emerging slowly into tho 21st century. This is the setting for the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, headed by Mme Ramotswe, and run alongside Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, the business owned and run by her husband, Mr J.L.B Maketoni.
Not sure whether I would enjoy the book, I started to read.Mme Ramotswe returns home to her house in Zebra Drive, to enjoy a rest and a cup of Bush tea, only to find that things are not quite as they had been left. The kettle and its lead have been moved slightly, and an intruder is the only explanaton. She moves quite bravely around the house, finding no-one, she lies down upon her bed, only to discover that the intruder is closer than she thought, as he dashes from the room. I won't spoil it by describing the exact circumstances but he is trouserless. I didn't expect this, and it made me laugh aloud, which I don't normally do when reading, so I took this to be a good start. Mma Ramotswe seems relatively unphased by this unusual event, though Mr. J.L.B.Maketoni is understandably perturbed on hearing about it."That is very bad," he said. "I do not like the thought that there was a strange man in our bedroom without any trousers".
The book continues at a gentle pace, and several interwoven themes emerge which blend into the whole story. Mma Ramotswe accidently knocks a man from his bicycle,and later hires him, despite the fact that he has recently come out of prison. A garage apprentice is enticed away, by the charms of a rich older woman,the Detective Agency takes on the case of an embezzler who has absconded with a large ammount of money, Mma Ramotswes violent ex husband reappears, and the Detective Agency 2nd in Command Mma Makutsi joins a dance class to learn to dance, and meet a man.
All these themes develop, are not boring, and make for an interesting read. Mma Ramotswe has been likened to Miss Marple, I think only in the sense that she lives in quiet, unremarkable circumstances, but human nature being what it is, the full range of human behaviour carries on all around her.The stories are expressed in simple language, but there is not a lack of depth. The main characters address each other formally,and politely(except when Mma Mkutsi gets called a warthog) I find this the only aspect ofthe book that grates on me slightly surely Mr. JLB Matekoni must have a christian name for family use at least?
There are some nice descriptions of life in Botswana, for example when an elderly man who used to be a friend of Mma Ramotswes late father visits the Agency, but is reluctant to enter the building, prefering to meet under the tree outside. Mma Ramotswe fully understands this wishing to talk under a tree as people had always done.Her father also had enjoyed talking to people sitting or standing under a tree' watching the cattle grazing,or simply looking at the sky and the hills of a country that he had loved so much.
Alexader McCall Smith has also been a professor of Ethics, and this comes through as he presents the reader with a few dilemmas. For example MmaMakutsi manages to effectively deal with an insincere answerphone message left by a Minister of Religion offering to pray for people he has never met.
I was charmed by this easygoing, pleasant book, and don't think I have read anything like it before.The book is only about 250 pages long, but left me wanting more. It is published by Polygon Edinburgh, the hardback version priced at £12.99.
This is the sixth book in the series featuring Precious Ramotswe, the founder of the Number One Ladies Detective Agency. Ive read a couple of the previous books, and although I wasnt completely bowled over by them, they were light and enjoyable reads and when I saw this for 50p in a charity shop, I couldnt resist.
Mma Ramotswe is now married to her long time boyfriend J L B Matekoni and the two are living in Zebra Drive with their adopted children. Business is good; the Number One Ladies Detective Agency now has quite a name for itself and the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors business is renowned for its hard-working boss, J L B Matekoni.
But just as everything seems to be going well, things suddenly take a turn for the worse. Note Makoti, Mma Ramotswes ex-husband suddenly turns up and realising that she is now married to another man without having divorced Note, he blackmails her for a substantial amount of money. On top of that, Charlie, one of the mechanics at the garage, has found a rich sugar mummy and has handed in his notice; J L B Matekonis old home, rented out to an acquaintance, has been turned into an illegal bar; Mma Makutsi, Mma Ramotwes hard-working assistant has realised she may have to spend the rest of her life alone and Mma Ramotswe knocks a man off his bicycle. Can Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi solve their own problems as well as everyone elses?
Apart from the first book featuring Mma Ramotswe, where her childhood is carefully described, she has had very little character development since then. In this book, she is her usual stolid, sensible self and apart from the problem with her ex-husband, doesnt really feature all that heavily in the book except in her efforts to help others. Likewise, J L B Matekoni keeps in the background.
The real star of this book is Mma Makutsi, Mma Ramotswes plain but efficient assistant. Despite the knowledge that she scored the highest mark of anyone in her secretarial exams, she has very little confidence in her own abilities, but by this book, she begins to come out of her shell much more and takes on more responsibility than ever before. She even decides to make some changes in her lifestyle and starts going to a dancing class in the hope that she will meet some new and interesting people. I think without this development and the introduction of a couple of new characters, this book would have fallen rather flat.
It is hard to dislike this book, but neither did it really excite me. Despite the initial promise that this series was going to be detective fiction, the odd crime that the Detective Agency works on are now pushed very much in the background and in its place are problems to do with social injustice and good eventually overcoming evil. This is fine, but I do find the books getting more and more sanctimonious and rather judgemental and I find it hard to see how the series can really develop past this point.
At the same time, the book is refreshingly straightforward. The language used is simple, but to the point and certainly has its own style with an underlying quiet humour, so very different from other modern day authors. And although the plot is not exactly gripping, it does make for pleasant and light reading ideal for on public transport or on the beach.
I also enjoy the backdrop of Botswana and its gentle customs. McCall Smith spent some time in the country, and his first-hand experience does shine through. He has probably done more for the countrys image than any tourist board could do.
I cant really give this book any more than three stars. If you have not read any of the series, I would definitely not recommend that you start with this one. I did enjoy the book, but I cant see it winning any great literary prizes and it didnt encourage me to seek out any of the other books in the series that I have not yet read. Nor would I want to pay full price.
If you do want to get hold of a copy, it is available from play.com for £4.99. Published by Time Warner Books, it has 272 pages. ISBN: 034911742X.
Precious Ramotswe, that cheerful Botswanan private investigator of 'traditional build', is now married to Mr J.L.B. Matekoni of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. The Agency is busy, but Mma Ramotswe cannot ignore the plea which is made by a woman who comes to her with a tale of particular misfortune. Unfortunately, her attempts to help are interrupted by a close encounter between her tiny white van and a bicycle, and by a spectacular disagreement between her assistant, Mma Makutsi, and one of the apprentices at the garage. This apprentice has found a fancy girlfriend who drives a Mercedes-Benz. How can he be rescued from his folly? And as for Mma Makutsi, she has found a dancing class, and a man who may not be able to dance very well, but who admires her greatly. And all of this happens against a background of quiet sessions of bush tea, and of a land that stretches out forever under mile upon mile of empty sky.