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This review will probably be short and sweet, a bit like the book itself! Most people have heard of the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series of books by Alexander McCall-Smith, and this is number 5 in the series. In case anyone doesn't know, the books are set in Botswana, and revolve around the main characters Mma Ramotswe, who runs her own detective agency, her assistant Mma Makutsi, and J.L.B. Matekoni, who is romantically linked with Mma Ramotswe.
The books in this series are generally fairly short, and this one is no exception. I've been trying to get back into reading lately, and this book was given to me by a friend because she said it would be ideal to dip in and out of, and it wouldn't matter if I didn't get chance to read it every day because the plot isn't complicated. This is one thing I will say about this book, it's very easy reading and you don't have to scratch your head trying to remember characters or keep up with the plot.
I've read a lot of criticism of these books, and the fact they are quite slow moving, but I think that's kind of the point in that the lifestyle is different in Botswana, and the pace of life is much slower. The thing I like about this book is that it transported me to another place and I could imagine I was there, but at the same time the characters all had similar worries, insecurities and problems that are common to everyone.
The storyline to this book is fairly simple, and there are a few mini-stories running alongside each other, but there are two main storylines. Firstly, the case that Mma Ramotswe is working on is for a rich woman who wants to know which of her potential suitors are only interested in her for her money. The second is Mma Ramotswe's concern that a date hasn't been set for her wedding to J.L.B. Matekoni yet, and she wonders if he'll ever make an honest woman of her.
I can't say this book is high on drama or suspense, I didn't feel compelled to turn the next page to find out what was going to happen next. Despite the fact Mma Ramotswe is investigating a case for her client, even this sort of fizzles out towards the end of the novel and makes it a bit pointless. It's certainly not your average detective case!
However, despite the slow pace and lack of plot, I still found this a pleasant read. I quite like the pace of this book, and the fact that you get to know the characters throughout the series, so the book becomes more about them than the storyline itself. The books are charming but as this is the fifth in the series, I imagine they can get a bit boring if the format is the same for each one.
The ending of this book is left open at the end for the next instalment of the series, although it doesn't leave any cliffhangers or loose ends so you could just read this one on its own and not be at a disadvantage from not reading the previous ones. I think this is a lovely simple uncomplicated book, which gives a good insight into life in another country with different cultures, attitudes and lifestyles.
This is the fifth installment in the popular series detailing the unconventional detective techniques of the traditionally built Botswanan detective Mma Precious Ramotswe. I don't feel it is essential to have read the previous books as there are no real plot spoilers, any background knowledge you need into the characters is provided briefly and succinctly whenever necessary, mainly in the first chapter. Again Mma Ramotswe is ably assisted by Assistant Detective and Assistant Garage Manager Mma Makutsi and she is still engaged to Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, the proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. Mma Ramotswe's main case in this book is to check the suitability of a wealthy businesswoman's suitors. Mma Holonga owns a number of hair-braiding salons and is looking for a husband, but she wants to be sure that the man she marries is not just after her for her money and requires Mma Ramotswe to check up on them for her.
Mma Ramotswe also has to fend off her friend Mma Potokwani, the matron of the orphan farm (as they call the local orphanage), who wants Mr J.L.B Matekoni to do a parachute jump to raise funds. Mr Matekoni has his own problems with his troublesome girl-hungry apprentices and concerns over another garage in the city that is ripping off its clients. Mma Ramotswe is also starting to wonder if she and Mr J.L.B. Matekoni will ever get married.
At just over 200 pages this is not going to take long to read. The books are character led, the 'investigations' are really just something that keeps the story ticking along. The book (like all in the series) is not heavy on plot and not a lot happens. This seems to suit the gentle, laid-back pace of life lived by the characters and whilst I quite enjoy reading about what the characters are thinking and the observations of Mma Ramotswe I am starting to wonder if perhaps it is time the characters had a bit more to do.
I enjoy these books as they offer something a bit different, whilst being a quick and easy read which is needed sometimes! However, I find this is all getting a bit samey. The cynic in me is wondering if McCall Smith is going to start churning these books out as they are so popular and obvious money spinners. I hope this is not the case and that he either offers something a bit more in future books, or retires Mma Ramotswe gracefully.
The RRP is £6.99. Suitable for those who enjoy or are looking for a gentle read, rather than dedicated fans of detective fiction.
The Series in order:
The No1 Ladies Detective Agency
Tears of the Giraffe
Morality for Beautiful Girls
The Kalahari Typing School for Men
The Full Cupboard of Life
In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
Blue Shoes and Happiness
The Good Husband of Zebra Drive.
Precious Ramotswe, Botswanas finest (and only) female detective is just a little bit impatient about her engagement to Mr J L B Matekoni, the proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. She doesnt wish to put pressure on her fiancé, but she does wonder if they will ever get married. Hes got other things on his mind though. The matron of the orphan farm wants him to raise some money by doing a sponsored parachute jump. Mr Matekoni has never even been in a plane. Meanwhile Mma Ramotswe is approached by the wealthy owner of a chain of hair-braiding salons, who wants the No1 Detective Agency to investigate not one, but four suitors.
This is the fifth book in Alexander McCall Smiths The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. Each time I read one I enjoy it to a certain extent but think that I probably wont bother with any more. Then I find one at the library and another sleepless night is filled. For me the series is endearing and amusing but not really compelling. After reading one of the books Ive no great compulsion to find out what happens next to the main characters, mainly because the books are all very similar and a bit formulaic. To some extent, if youve read one, then youve read them all.
I can only assume that The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency is going to run into severe financial problems before long. With each passing book the agency seems to undertake fewer and fewer cases whilst carrying the same overheads. The series began as a reasonable story of detective fiction, but has moved further and further out of the genre. What detection is done is all about intuition, luck and hunches rather than the patient collection of evidence and elimination of possibilities. In fact theres more about Mr. J L B Matekonis philosophy of being a car mechanic than there is of detection in this book.
Although the books loosely form a series they can each be read as stand-alone novels. In fact, the two orphans accidentally adopted by Mr J L B Matekoni in the second book in the series barely feature in this, the fifth novel. They are about but I actually got to the stage of worrying about how they were being cared for. I have read the books out of order and they are no worse and no better for that.
The characters dont develop as the series progresses. Mma Ramotswe is a traditionally-built lady of sound common sense. Mr J L B Matekoni is a man of high ideals but rather indecisive. We are still being told at every verse end that Mma Makutsi (secretary and assistant detective) got 97% in her exams at secretarial college. Its like a joke thats been told too many times its now been running since the first book in the series. I have an urge to berate her for the 3% that she got wrong. The only rounded part about the characters is Mma Ramotswes traditional build. The book is almost pastiche.
The story I hesitate to call it a plot moves along steadily if a little slowly. In truth its not very complicated and could probably be compressed into a couple of paragraphs. What you buy though is not the story, but a snapshot of a calm and leisurely way of life, set in post-colonial Africa. Alexander McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe and has lived in Botswana where this series is set. Hes obviously drawing on his own experience (and love) of the country. It has been said that the series is patronising to black people and this is a difficult point to judge when youre a white person who has never been to Botswana. Id hope though that the portrait of the people and the places is seen as affectionate rather than patronising.
The books recommended if you want an unchallenging read. Theres no sex and no violence, so Id be happy to give it to any adult and even a child who is a confident reader. They might struggle with some of the unfamiliar African names and pronunciations but I think most would enjoy it. Its not recommended if you like your literature to be a little meatier or if you really want to read detective fiction.
Paperback 212 pages (July 1, 2004)
Price £6.99 but available on Amazon for £5.59 in December 2005
Alexander McCall Smith's enchanting stories about that most unlikely detective, Precious Ramotswe, have occupied the best seller lists practically unceasingly since they were first published in paperback in the UK in 2003. Many have been very surprised by this. After all, none of the books follow the fairly common trend of being weighty tomes. None run to much more that a couple of hundred pages and yet are full price. My own view is that they are unique in style. I don't think I have ever read another book quite like them. Now, we hear, such is their success that either the BBC is to turn these stories into a television series or Anthony Minghella is going to make the first one into a film. I just can't imagine who could play the lead. I suspect it will be someone of whom we've never heard. Certainly it will have to be someone more like the original, Margaret Rutherford, than the most recent, the incomparable Joan Hickson (who, it is believed, was always visualised for the role by author, Agatha Christie). Precious Ramotswe is a "traditionally built" lady! The first book in the series, "The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency", introduced us to the hero of these tales and in it we learn a little of her history. She lives in Gabarone, close to the border with South Africa, in Botswana, a country in the middle of southern Africa, between Zimbabwe and Namibia. She has a lot of that home-spun wisdom that has caused her almost universally to be known as "Africa's Miss Marple". However, a "Miss" she isn't. Unlike her English equivalent, Precious has in fact been married, unhappily so and now no longer so. Now she has a new interest in her life, Mr J.
6;. B. Matekoni, owner of the "Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors" garage, the best motor car repair and servicing business in all Botswana. "Mr J. L. B. Matekoni", says everything that you need to know about these books. No first names. When not addressing people by their full names they use a title instead, Mma for a lady, Rra for a man. But no first names! The entire style of these books is indicative of a very different way of life. Yes, this is Africa. Yes, these are people who live a very different way to you and me. Yes, they have a whole society and etiquette that may seem quite alien. But these are people and situations we can recognise and understand. And this is Precious' secret; so does she. She observes and she thinks and she understands. Each of the previous books have told us of the matters that she has investigated and the solutions that she has uncovered to the problems that they have posed. At the end of the end of the first book, she has become engaged to be married for the second time, this time to Mr J. L. B. Matekoni (there, he's even got me at it!). Now, here in book five, she is still just engaged. Will she ever get her man? She's been so successful at getting them when they have been engaged in nefarious activities. How come Mr J. L. B. Matekoni has managed to slip through her fingers? For a little of a clue on that you will have to read the first four books for yourself. We carry on from where the previous book, "The Kalahari Typing School for Men", left off. Precious and her assistant, Mma Makutsi, her secretary now promoted to Assistant Detective, are once again sorting out the problems of their clients. Rra Matekoni is torn betwee
n his garage and the local orphanage, to whom he is the fixer of mechanical problems and sponsor. He has also agreed to foster a couple of their children though he still doesn't really know quite how that happened. It was certainly a surprise for Precious, who knew nothing of this commitment at the time. But Precious has come round so far as her prospective charges are concerned so why is Rra Matekoni so reluctant to tie the knot? Precious has now pressed him to "name the day". All he will say is "Next year". After all, Precious is a substantial woman, and I'm not talking about her size. She runs her own business. Yes, her office is part of the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors garage but that was a matter of convenient choice rather than necessity. She has as substantial herd of cattle, left to her by her father. In Botswana, that makes you a person of some value. She owns her own house. She has her own vehicle; OK, it may just be a little old white van but even so... Now Rra Matekoni has been asked by the intimidating Mma Potokwani, to raise money for the orphanage by doing a parachute jump! Is this a jump too far? Will he go through with it or will he finally stand up to Mma Potokwani and say "No"? Maybe he feels that he doesn't actually want to spend the rest of his life with women telling him what to do? In his previous books, McCall Smith has interwoven the plots of the cases that Precious has undertaken on behalf of her clients with progressing the histories of the leading characters. Now, in book five, the cases take more of a back seat and we learn more of their own personal stories. Don't get me wrong, this is still a detective story but this time there is really only one central case and coincidenta
lly it is also one concerning marriage. A rich lady client wishes Precious to advise her which of four potential suitors would be the most suitable. Being rich she wants to know which is after her and which after her money. Will the client get her man? Will Mr J. L. B. Matekoni jump out of a plane or to the altar, or neither, or both? To find out you must read the book for yourself. And read it you must for the next, sixth, book in the series, "In The Company of Cheerful Ladies" will shortly be at a bookshop near you. I can't wait. Capital letters courtesy of: http://www.chuckleweb.co.uk/fixit.php
Mma Ramotswe, who became engaged to Mr J.L.B. Matekoni at the end of the first book, is still engaged. She wonders when a day for the wedding will be named, but she is anxious to avoid putting too much pressure on her fiance. For indeed he has other things on his mind - notably a frightening request made of him by Mma Potokwani, pushy matron of the Orphan Farm. Mma Ramotswe herself has weighty matters on her mind. She has been approached by a wealthy lady - whose fortune comes from successful hair-braiding salons - and has been asked to check up on several suitors. Are these men just interested in her money? This may be difficult to find out, but Mma Ramotswe is, of course, a very intuitive lady.