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The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - Alexander McCall Smith

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Author: Alexander McCall / Genre: Fiction

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    16 Reviews
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      04.05.2012 10:47
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      'What does a Detective Agency really need? - Mma Ramotswe tries to imagine..'3 mugs..a chair........

      Really?...Mma Ramotswe asks in the first pages of the book.. 'What else does a Detective Agency really need?' Redbush Tea? 3 mugs? Herself? A Secretary..?

      and of course, a Client always helps..

      We find out that her detective skills are somewhat 'questionable' when she ensnares a husband's entreaties by posing as the bait herself. We discover that without cattle you are deemed to be 'naked' and that her father's interest in them bequeaths her the funds to accommodate her dreams. We discover a lost boy, then a boy who wants to be lost by the name of Jack and a snake that finds its way into the tiny white van and scares Mma Ramotswe to near death. There are stories of black magic and boyfriend mechanics and a lost finger that has been claimed for a least twice!

      These and more are just some of the delightful twists and turns in the first instalment of this wonderful saga. The books and the writing is completely different to that of what is currently considered to be the 'norm' in fictIonal drama. The writing is quirky to say the least, which has a charm and character that is hard to ignore, where I feel Alexander McCall Smith's personality shines through. It is almost as if one could place him into the persona of Mma Ramotswe and change his form to female, then he (as 'writer') would become the African Lady Detective himself!

      I would encourage young and old alike to read this book as the appeal is far reaching and unlimited by age or reading ability.

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        10.03.2012 20:39

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        An unusal read, off the beaten track but just what will Mma Ramotswe get up to?

        Having spent some years living and working in Botswana I just had to read this book. I used to live in the area it was set so I actually know the places and can really get into the setting. The setting is typical of the area and I actually think the tv series did not do it full justice. After buying the first book I have gone on to read the series. However, I am not sure if you have never been there that you get the full impact of the book, even the pronunciation of some of the words/places!

        It is slow to get into but is one of those books that if you stick at gets better and being a short and therefore relatively thin book I could slip it in my handbag to read whilst the girls were at there various clubs.

        The main character is Mma Ramotswe who decides to set up a detective agency. This is a very difficult to do anywhere in the world nevermind Botswana! The book follows her through both her personal life and the cases she takes on. The character is quite head strong and if you imagine people rarely shout in Botswana and read it in a calm tone then you can really get inside the characters head. Mma Ramotswe takes on some cases, I won't go into detail as I think this would spoil the read

        The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency fiction but set in real Botswana and is written by Alexander McCall Smith. It is available in the usual places like Whsmiths. I got mine when it was on offer for £2.99 and thught it was well worth it.

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        16.08.2010 10:17
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        A feel good book

        I started reading this book three days ago and I have already romped through it. Do not be fooled by the title, however, since it is certainly not a thriller - you will not be forced to stay up late at night reading to make sure that the lead character has got out of some perilous situation, it is far more gentle than that. The book focuses around the first lady detective in Botswana, Mma Ramotswe, and it is filled with her cases, but these tend to be solved with relative ease in the most part, but each case reveals a new insight into the human character which I found most interesting. The chapters vary in length, but some are quite short, which I find makes me read more.

        By far the best thing about the book, however, is Alexander McCall Smith's descriptions of Botswana. Having never been to Africa myself, his writing is brilliant at really managing to bring the scences to life and make you feel like you are there. He picks out the smallest of details, all of which together give you a really excellent picture of what life is like for Mma Ramotswe. She in herself is another brilliant thing about this book, she has an intersting past, is full of life, and has a personality that makes you smile. Her relationships with the other characters are at least as intersting as her cases.

        To sum up, this is definitely what I would call 'easy reading', but I mean that in the best possible way. Alexander McCall Smith manages to transport the reading into an exotic African world where everything is new and excited, where the people are freindly and well meaning on the most part (there are a few bad eggs of course) and always have an interesting story to tell. Well worth a read, so go on, what are you waiting for?

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        18.02.2010 12:10
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        a detective novel!

        Right, well I got this through Bookcrossing.com, and I read it about a month ago. The thing about that is that, now that I'm coming up to reviewing this book, I have received through the post the sequel called "Tears of the Giraffe", I have already read this and passed it on, so I may struggle in keeping the right story-line, but I shall try my best...

        I have just recently got into detective novels based on the fact that I read "The Big Sleep" - Raymond Chandler, for my English A-Level coursework. You could say that my like for detective novels goes back to my early years when I was a fan of "Point Horror" (let me tell you.... I still am), but in my opinion "Point Horror" is among the horror genre, and not so close to the detective side of things.

        Alexander McCall Smith is an author I had never ever heard of before I read this. I love getting my hands on a book by a new author (what I mean by that is an author I have never heard of), as it can determine whether or not I should keep an eye out for his/hers books, or to keep a GREAT distance away from them. I do have a slight problem of the fact that if it is a good book, I tend to add nearly all the books he/her has published onto my wish list. This can aggravate me as my wish list NEVER stops growing, and even though it does go down a few times, it always has new books on there!

        He has written books for children as well as adults, and this just shows how good he is at writing as it is really, really hard for a person who is already known for his adult books, to write children's books as well. I shall be adding the rest of his adult books to my wish list, but also, I shall not be adding the children's books to my wish list.

        This book follows a person called Precious Ramotswe. She decides to set up a detective agency called "The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency". We follow some really crazy detective work; sometimes it is really shocking how far out of the ordinary it gets.

        We also learn about her past and how she was brought up, and also about her father's past, this gives us insight into what her life is like and what it used to be like.

        This 1st book is the introductory into the series and everything, this is why the plot outline seems to be short, but it's only because I don't want to give too much information away, and if I do then you may be able to guess what the book is like, and surely you don't want that to happen.

        I really enjoyed this, as you can tell by my rating. I liked how the author made you understand what was happening in a simple way, also you had time to try and guess what had happened before the answer was actually given to you, I always guessed wrong, but at least I tried.

        I find this book pretty similar to the "Point Horror" series, but they are very different, I reckon the only similarity, is that both series lets you guess before the answer is revealed, maybe I'm just comparing the 2 because I always guessed wrong!

        I would recommend this to everyone and anyone, even if this is not your type of genre, as it is clever and is funny (at times) and surely everyone needs a different setting now and again.

        I loved reading this book on a really boring and horrible day, especially when the weather was wet, because the book is set in Africa, and it's such a brilliant setting as you get to understand what it is like over there.

        I think I am finished, and I sure hate how short my reviews seem to be getting every single time I come to write one, but anyhow, thank you all for reading and I hope you will keep on reading my reviews and rating them!

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          10.10.2009 19:21
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          Well worth buying

          This book (and the rest of the series) has to be one of my all time favourite books.

          It is the story of Precious Ramotswe who lives in Botswana and decides to set up a detective agency with her inheritance after the death of her father and the story tells of her life and first few cases.

          It is quite a slim volume and can easily be read in a day or two and is a throughly entertaining read. Its a definite feel-good read rather than in the category of thriller or murder-mystery. Precious Ramotswe loves Botswana and the country she describes does sound fabulous, she has strong morals and an interesting point of view on what she sees going on around her and the people she meets.

          I can completely get lost in the book, and the charming world and life of Mma Ramotswe and her detective agency and its a book that I've read over and over again so definitely one that's a keeper.

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          24.08.2009 21:29
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          An easy summer read

          The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was one of the books that I read on the coach whilst travelling home from Austria. The book isn't one that I'd hurry to read again but it was one that I rather enjoyed. When you're travelling all you want is a book that is easy to digest and easy to read whilst being entertaining at the same time. For all intents and purpose you want to be reading one of those so-called 'beach read' books and in my opinion that is exactly what this book is.

          The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency tells the story of Precious Ramotswe who is the proud owner of the first and only ladies detective agency is Botswana. Now I don't normally do this but I'm going to simply reproduce the book's blurb below as I don't think that I could sum up the book any better or give you more of an insight of it than is printed on the cover.

          "Wayward daughters. Missing husbands. Philandering partners. Curious conmen. If you've got a problem, and no one else can help you then pay a visit to Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's only - and finest - female private detective

          Her methods may not be conventional, and her manner not exactly Miss Marple, but she's got warmth, wit and canny intuition on her side, not to mention Mr J. L. B. Matekoni, the charming proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. And Precious is going to need them all as she sets out on the trail of a missing child, a case that tumbles our heroine into a hotbed of strange situations and more than a little danger..."

          This blurb although interesting if not a little intriguing however wasn't what first attracted me to the book because it was the bright colours and somewhat tribal designs on the front that actually made me pick it up and take a closer look. The fact that the books covers are in fitting with the content of the book and the ideas that the lead character wishes to portray about her beloved Africa is really pleasant to see.

          The story itself and the way in which is was told was quite interesting to read and entertaining for the most part but it was the African setting that made this book unique for me and the landscape descriptions and general discussions about the continent and its difference was something that really appealed to me. Don't think however that this book is simply trying to change perceptions of Africa because that is not the case in any shape or form. The book is simply and enjoyable little detective tale that just happens to be set somewhere were the normal bounds of detection don't necessarily exist.

          What I did find a little irritating though was that not everything within the book seemed to relate to what I had read on the blurb. I don't mean that what we're told my the author isn't relevant but just that some of the 'key' sounding plots on the books cover don't actually play as big a part as you might imagine. The sections I didn't expect to find, those discussing precious, background as well as that of her father, were in fact very interesting to read and made the book feel more rounded and informed.

          This book is in no way a completely engrossing deep read with numerous twists and turns but if I'm honest that is not what I wanted it to be when I picked it up. The No 1. Ladies' Detective Agency is simply an easy read that can be enjoyed wherever you are.

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            13.03.2009 23:58
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            A nice feel good book that gives you an insight into life in Africa

            I bought this book from a charity shop as I had seen on the television that they were making it into a TV programme.

            I have just finished reading this book and have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.

            The fictional story written by Alexander McCall Smith follows Precious (Mwa) Ramotswe in her efforts to establish the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency. She has been left some money by her father and decides that she wants to do something with her life and make her now deceased father proud.

            There is loosely a main storyline within the book with quirky sub investigations that branch off. The book is very descriptive and you can really lose yourself in the pages imagining yourself right there in Botswana. The author manages to throw you right in there, giving you childhood stories relating to Precious and her journey of growing up in Botswana. There is a small part of the book that is written as if it is the father, giving you even more background information. This all helps you build an understanding of the personalities of the characters.

            The book is not a particularly big book and only took me a couple of days to read but I would definitely recommend to anybody.

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              21.01.2009 17:12
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              Mma Ramotswe is waiting for you!

              The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is a work of fiction written by Alexander McCall Smith.

              Why did I want to read this book?

              I was browsing in a bookshop a while back and I saw this and picked it up. I had heard of it before and thought that the title made it sound interesting, and unusual. However, what helped me make the decision to buy it was the cover- it just looks so exciting! From the picture above you can see the small traditional house, and a crocodile!

              The beginning

              I was very surprised with this book when I started to read it! I had not imagined anything in particular about what the story would be, but I certainly had not imagined it to be set in Botswana! This was a nice surprise and added to the fact that I wanted to read it. I stumbled over the Batswana names though, and this slowed my reading down quite a lot! I also thought that at the start of the book the writing is very basic, and that the only thing it has going for it is the fact that it is set in a country that I have never, and most people have never been to, so it is exotic.

              Also at the start of the book, I found that the story was about very mundane things. After about fifty pages, I wondered whether I wanted to keep reading this...

              The middle!

              As the book gets in to the middle section, the main character, Mma Ramotswe, goes about the business of her detective agency. This involves some fairly interesting cases, and it is interesting to read about her experiences as a woman in a land where only men do such work. She is very headstrong and always successful in proving that she can be a detective!

              In the second part of the middle of the book, the cases really do get more interesting. For example, Mma Ramotswe deals with wayward children and bad husbands. There is also a case that begins here that goes on to the end of the book. Most of the cases only last for one or two of the twenty-two chapters, and I thought that that made the book very bitty.

              Mma Ramotswe's personaly life gets a little more interesting in this part of the book as well!

              The end

              I won't spoil the ending for you, but I will say that this is the best part of the book! Mma Ramotswe is still working with her community in Botswana, solving mysterious cases and proving that she does run the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency.

              After some of the incidents earlier in the book, I was very surprised by the ending, but it was a good one!

              In Summary and recommendation

              At only 226 pages, this book is a very short read. I did enjoy it but as I said at one point I really thought about putting it down. If you start to read it and don't enjoy it, persist at least to the midpoint because it really does get better as it goes on.

              I enjoyed learning about Botswana and its people, and the simple account of this woman's life is actually quite refreshing. This story is certainly unusual, and in summary, I would recommend it.

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                10.02.2008 00:57
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                very interesting book

                Hello today I would like share my experience reading No1 Ladies Detective Agency book, I read the book while I was at work , it was left on top of the TV in our rest room and the red cover of the book drew my attention and then I began reading.
                The book was about a African lady reaching her goal in life. The female was called Precious Ramotswe. Ramotswe was borne alone while her father was working in Johannesburg as a miner , she met her father when she was couple months old and when she united with her father , she lost her mother , who died naturally in a young age. She was raised by her father and her lovely female cousin , the cousin taught Ramotswe how to count and how to read when she was two and she prepared Ramotswe to school before she even went to school, so when Ramotswe went to school she knew how to count and how to read. The reason the cousin spent most of her time with Ramotswe was because she could never have kids of her own and she treated Ramotswe as if it was her own child.

                The cousin then married a rich men and moved out from Ramotswe house , when Ramotswe was 12 . When Ramotswe was 16 she went to move in with the cousin and one day going to see his father she met a man who she married and where she met cruelty and where she got beaten and lost her baby.
                I don't want reveal everything therefore I am going to explain about the book in short phases.

                Ramotswe left her husband and moved in with her father who left her a cattle and a bull , when he died he asked her to open up a business by selling the cattle and the bull, and she opened No 1 Ladies Detective Agency . At first she did not have many customers but then her business grew . She solved many cases and the fact that she had no qualification she educated her self by reading .
                In the book she explains the cases she solved and how she obtained her information and she followed some principles to be successful. She began to have good contacts and made many friends.
                The story is set in Africa and the book explains the history of Africa and how Africa is now. It explains how black and white men communicated . The book also gives the agriculture of Africa , and the weather .

                What interested me about this book was , the way she solved the cases and how powerful women she was , although at that time in Africa women was at home looking after their husbands , cooking and cleaning but she chose to Detective and she was told many times that she would not be successful. But she became success full.
                She also explains that looks are not very important and although she was kept called fat she loved her body and she loved the way she is and most importantly she loved Africa.

                If you are kind of person likes to know about other cultures and bit of history and a good detective skills , I think this book is for you , but I must say that its enjoyable to read this book because it shows how powerful a women can be if she wants.
                The book costs £6.99 and you can buy it in any book store Waterstone or Amozon.com.

                Happy Reading

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                  06.01.2008 20:50
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                  The first book in the popular series.

                  Like many I had heard of the popular No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series but had not got round to reading any of them. At the time I started reading them there were only four of five books in the series, although at the time of writing there are now eight. Being a stickler for reading such things in the right order (if not necessarily reviewing them in the right order) I started at the beginning with the original, and in my opinion, the best of the series (saying that I have only read five of them so far). I don't think it is essential to read them in order, as you will not miss too much of the plot, although there is some character development over the later novels, which may not make sense, but does not really effect the general outcome.

                  The writing style is unfussy and easy to read (without being trashy) and our heroine, Mma Precious Ramotwse, is an endearing character, as are her friends and family. The book initially covers her background and how she decided to become a detective and also reminisces about her beloved father and not so beloved ex-husband. In this book, the newly established Ladies' Detective Agency is asked to search for a missing child, a missing husband and some missing fingers....

                  Whilst the mysteries she solves do not involve hi-tech investigation like contemporary crime novels, and the outcomes are often predictable, she solves them with great aplomb, a bit of cunning and a sense of dignity which means that they are always amusing to read. It does not take her very long to solve her crimes, and her methods maybe somewhat unorthodox, I cannot see the Metropolitan Police force recruiting her anytime soon! The books are often found in the Crime Fiction section of bookshops, and I think they miss their target audience. These are not for your die hard crime thriller fans but for people who want a light read with a difference without reading chick lit or something dumbed down.

                  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.

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                    04.12.2006 14:55
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                    An enjoyable inoffensive read

                    I had heard quite a bit about The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, but had never really been interested in reading it. Then I saw a TV interview with the author Alexander McCall Smith. One thing he said really intrigued me.

                    To paraphrase, he said people had enough worries in their lives, so he wrote books that were generally upbeat and where bad things didn’t really happen. This surprised me. As a writer, I have been told many times that you need conflict to make a story or novel work. So I decided to read the book and see what I thought to it.

                    It isn’t really a novel I would have chosen otherwise. It is set in Africa – specifically in Botswana – and I’m not very interested in that part of the world, favouring books set in Europe. The cover is bright and colourful and of an African design.

                    I got the book free through www.readitswapit.co.uk but it is readily available from all the usual places. The cover price is £6.99 for the paperback version and this is the first in a series, so if you enjoy reading this one, there are more books to read afterwards.

                    The central character of the novel is Mma. Precious Ramotswe, who is the only private detective in the area. The novel tells of the cases she works on, as well as showing her daily life, her friends and neighbours and life in that part of the country.

                    One thing I was very pleased about is that Mma. Ramotswe is not some size 8 blonde white woman in her twenties. No, she is black, middle-aged and a large woman, being a size 22 (like me). This makes a nice change, as I felt I could relate to her in some way, even though we are from completely different parts of the world and have different colour skin. This ‘connection’ made it easier to get into the story.

                    I initially found the African names hard, but stuck with a pronounciation I was happy with, then kept on reading. After all, I’m only saying the words in my head, not out loud, so it doesn’t matter if they’re not always said correctly.

                    The feeling of genuine African culture and life comes over really well. The author was born in Zimbabwe and has lived in Botswana and his descriptions were very realistic and evocative, giving a great flavour of authenticity, which brings the words alive.

                    The cases tackled by the detective agency are varied and include child abduction, infidelity and witchcraft, but are handled in quite a tame way. I can see what Alexander McCall Smith was discussing on TV, as there is no sex, violence, gore or bad language here – and you don’t miss them either. It is a gentle enough read, but interesting enough to hold the reader’s attention.

                    While Mma. Ramotswe was the highlight of the book for me, I also enjoyed reading about the other regular characters, who are very well described. I especially liked the garage owner, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni and the novel follows their relationship throughout.

                    In some ways, Mma. Ramotswe is quite a traditional African woman, but in other ways, she is very modern. She has a good approach to her cases and is quick thinking and innovative, which means the reader wants to keep reading and find out how she gets on. She also has quite a cheeky attitude at times, yet does so with politeness and respect, which means she gets her own way most of the time, but without offending people.

                    The novel is a short one at only 233 pages and a reasonably quick read. I found it a bit hard to get into at first, but once I was used to the setting, language and characters, it was a fun read and a book I looked forward to picking up. It doesn’t need too much concentration either, as it isn’t very heavy going.

                    I would recommend it to either gender and any age really, but especially to women in their thirties and above. I could imagine my mother and grandmothers reading this kind of thing. For a fun, inoffensive, light read, it’s just the thing.

                    At the end of the novel, there is the first chapter of the second book in this series, which is called Tears of the Giraffe. Hopefully I will be able to get this one soon too, as it carries on the story and I want to know what happens. While unlikely to become my favourite books, I can see myself reading them all in succession, which is a pretty good recommendation in itself.

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                      22.08.2005 11:15
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                      A crime novel without novel crime

                      This is how the New York Times Book review described Alexander McCall Smith's unique creation of Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's first female detective and owner of her own agency, bought with money left to her by her late father. And this is where the story begins, with her sitting in her new agency with her efficient secretary and a second hand typewriter waiting for the clients to arrive.

                      I was drawn to the striking African colours of this novel in the crime section of my local library in the hope that this would provide a new take on my favourite genre - a fresh context for intrigue and detection. And in many ways I was not disappointed, as the context of Precious’ life is depicted brilliantly. You can tell that McCall Smith spent time working in Botswana (he helped to set up the Law school at the university) because the descriptions of the country are vivid, personal and detailed. Everything of how I imagine semi-rural life in Africa is captured in this book, from detailed description of the houses through encounters with snakes to the way society works - the fact that, for example Precious’ inheritance was actually in the form of a large herd of cattle built up by her father over the years.

                      My favourite aspect of the descriptions of the country, however, is the way in which they are written. Writing, as he is, for a predominantly western audience, it would have been easy for the author to fall into the trap of being the teacher out to educate us about African life, but he avoids this patronising tone throughout. Precious, for example, is never referred to by her Christian name at all - she (and the other women in the book) are called Mma, without an explanation of the history of this. She drinks bush tea frequently throughout the book, but we can only guess at what that actually is. The local currency is the Pula, but we have no idea what one is actually worth. This, I think, is a real strength of the novel as it draws us still further into the atmosphere of the story, emphasising how alien this world is in many ways to our own everyday lives in the west, and giving a picture of the context of the story without preaching to us.

                      There are many ways, however, in which I found this a frustrating and unfulfilling read - indeed towards the end I was struggling to actually pick it up and finish it, which is highly unusual for me with a crime novel, and I began to analyse why. One reason is that there is no one big case to keep you hooked from start to finish, and this is a major way in which this differs from Miss Marple, for example. There is one more serious story involving witchcraft which does thread through the book, but most of the text is taken up with a series of small, quickly resolved plot lines. Some are clever twists - the story of the dodgy doctor is good - but none have the depth which I like in a crime novel, and there are few twists and turns. And even the major plot is resolved without too much difficulty - it is described as the case which puts her in danger on the cover of the book - but I never felt she was in danger in the same way as you feel that Temp in the Kathy Reichs novels is.

                      Another problem in terms of plot are the irrelevant episodes in the narrative. When reading crime fiction, I expect to have to take notice of every tiny detail as strands are woven back into the story and what seemed irrelevant becomes evidence later on. But in this story there are episodes which just happen for no reason other than to set the scene, I suppose - such as when she gets a snake in her engine on the road and has to be helped by a passer by - it has no other relevance. There is one episode, however, which really annoyed me. She gets up in the night because she has heard a noise, opens the back door, hears someone say her name and runs inside locking the door - this doesn’t just remain unresolved, it is never even referred to again! Very odd, indeed.

                      The other flaw in the book is the characters, in my opinion. They are described in detail, especially Precious and her late father, and much background history is provided. But I didn’t feel any real sympathy or connection with them - they didn’t feel alive to me. Even when Precious is describing the results of her tragic marriage - I won’t say what, so that it comes as a surprise - I was shocked that I couldn’t feel for her, as her character (unlike her stomach, which is referred to frequently) did not feel rounded for me.

                      To be honest, by the end of the novel, I was getting so frustrated with the plot that I was even skipping through the lovely descriptions of Africa in order to speed myself to the end. This was actually the first in a series of novels with Precious as the main character and I must say that as I finished this one I had no desire at all to find another, but maybe I am being unfair - perhaps subsequent books have a depth of plot which is lacking here. Maybe, in fact, I have missed the point entirely and the meandering narrative is meant to reflect the laid back African culture which forms the backdrop to the story. But whatever, I found that this book was not what I wanted it to be. If you want a beautiful picture of Africa and its people, this is the book for you. But if it’s a page turning crime novel with twists and turns and cliff-hangers and psychological insight, then stick to Kathy Reichs.

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                        27.01.2005 22:50
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                        WHAT'S THIS THEN?
                        ------------------------------
                        It's the first in a series of books by Alexander McCall Smith about Precious Ramotswe, the only female private detective in Botswana. She is, by Smith's admission, overweight, overbearing and underloved but in Africa and especially Botswana this is a look considered sexy and desirable by men.

                        PLOT
                        ---------
                        Precious Ramotswe's father left her an inheritance and, being a liberal man, said that if she didn't want to go and buy cattle (the only financial sure thing in Botswana) and instead buy a shop or a business then he would still be proud of her.

                        The first quarter of the book lays the foundations of Precious' upbringing. A whole chapter is dedicated to her father's working history in the gold mines of South Africa; another focuses on Precious' teenage years and a third concentrates on her doomed, violent marriage to a jazz trumpeter to whom she later became pregnant by. The baby died a few hours after birth.

                        It is this torrid past that serves Ramotswe well in her detective work. She applies a steely, yet good humoured, attitude to her work. I thought that Smith might well go down the "all men are bastards" route after her failed marriage, but it's refreshing to note that some of Precious' closest acquaintances are male.

                        After solving a couple of easy peasy cases, the story centres upon the abduction of an 8 year old boy just outside his village on the edge of the Kalahari Desert. It's a sign of the times that I immediately thought "paedophilia", but this is Botswana. It transpires that abductions are extremely rare and it's the child's bones - for witchcraft purposes - that the perpetrators seek.

                        Meanwhile Precious takes on small cases and builds herself a reputation to the extent where Botswana's richest man and, then later, it's most powerful man seek her services. One of them wants a bag returned that was stolen from his car. The bag had a child's bone in it......

                        THE CASES
                        ------------------
                        I thought that the cases were going to be dull and uninspiring when the first one was a lady seeking Ramotswe's help to see if her husband was cheating on her or not. Even this mundane procedure had a satisfactory, humourous and creative outcome.

                        Other cases such as: bogus insurance claims, inconsistent doctors and schoolgirls involved in forbidden afterschool trysts are dealt with as any logical person would: sensibly, tactfully and methodically. The outcomes are by turns surprising and satisfying.

                        GOOD POINTS
                        ----------------------
                        Firstly, the setting. Precious Ramotswe opens the door to her office, sits on her porch with a cup of bush tea and surveys a beautiful African sunset with silhouettes of wild game and paw-paw trees on the horizon. Great stuff.

                        The dialogue is fantastic. Respectful and courteous throughout, Precious deals with liars, sinners and saints equally until pushed to her limit when having to silence a stroppy lawyer in one case.

                        Traditional titles are used. "Mma" for women and "Rra" for men. This adds to the sheer authenticity of the book and the setting.

                        BAD POINTS
                        -------------------
                        The book does drag slightly at the beginning when outlining the Ramotswe family's history, particularly that of her father's mining years.

                        The cases, whilst varied and imaginatively solved, would be quite easy to solve, suggesting that the people of Botswana are either dim or lazy! Perhaps this is my perception and I've got it wrong.

                        OVERALL
                        ---------------
                        This is the first in a series and I suppose the slow start is needed to lay the foundations of the ensuing books. It's a fairly engrossing read and Mma Ramotswe's single-minded approach to solving cases is refeshing. The characters and the setting are colourful and vivid as is the dialogue. Great stuff, but I fear for the standard of the follow-up stories.

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                          21.03.2004 21:58
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                          Faced with a long train journey to London a week or so back, I asked my work colleague to recommend a good book I could take with me: something light, both to carry and in subject! She brought 'The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency' by Alexander McCall Smith to work the following day, along with the second book in the series 'Tears of the Giraffe', knowing I'd probably get through them both on the journey. I'm not a big fan of detective stories as such. I've read a few Agatha Christies, and I like Ian Rankin, but that's about as far as it goes. I shouldn't have worried. Despite the title, this is less detective story and more beautifully crafted novel. What is instantly striking about it is how very simply it is written: there are no great passages of detail ? in fact there is barely any detail! And yet it is rich and fluid and meaningful, without any hint of verbosity. Above all, it's also very funny. I loved it instantly. Precious Ramotswe, a Botswana lady who has been left some money by her late Daddy, uses it to set up the The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency. Like so much in the novel, the name of the agency is exactly what it says it is: no more and no less: Precious is Botswana's only female detective. She has no experience, but she does have intuition, common sense, intelligence, and a personality that commands the respect and trust of those around her. Her initial needs seem sensible enough: an expert secretary, (in order for the agency to be taken seriously), a large supply of bush tea, a little white van, and a premises from which to work. All she has already are her old typewriter, a chair, some teacups and a book about detective work, but that's all she needs, and so she begins. Like her creator Alexander McCall Smith, Mme Ramotswe doesn't overcomplicate things. She sees the world in clear, simple colours and gets to the bottom of her detective cases with a mixture of common sense
                          and logic. She has a refreshingly simple way of viewing people and situations. Moreover, she is as believable a character as they come: a good-hearted, lovable woman who is funny and wise and yet who has made mistakes in her time. Precious, in her past, had a disastrous marriage to a cruel man who beat her, and who she knows didn't even begin to have the qualities of her wonderful loving Daddy. The relationship between Precious and her late Daddy, Obed, is heartfelt and her love for him touchingly permeates every book in the series. The book is split into a lot of mini-stories formed by the several detective cases that Mme Ramotswe tackles. The cases range from straying husbands to missing children: the ordinary puzzles of everyday life. For the most part, these are very normal events: adultery, parent and child power struggles and so on. There are no warped murders or brutal attacks in this book! In fact, Mme Ramotswe's skill isn't really so much as a private detective as you would generally think of one, so much as a problem-solver. She seems to know how to handle delicate situations, what information to give to whom, and exactly how to give it. She uses every means at her disposal: flattery, guile, cunning, and lots of patience. She becomes a shoulder to cry on, a good listener, and those qualities alone help enormously in the line of work she has chosen. There are no jails, no policemen, no courts, no criminal justice system at all like you might expect a private detective to need: none of the stories are concerned with retribution or punishment and they aren't really about capturing the wrongdoers either. They are about resolving the situations, healing the emotional wounds, and appealing to the innate sense of right and wrong. That's what's so special about Mma Ramotswe: she sees the good in everyone, rather than the evil. How many other private detective characters are like that? Everything in the book is resolved with a posi
                          tive attitude and Mma is not just fat (as all good Batwana ladies are) but happy with her lot. It's not that she has never known sadness for we know that she has: but she continually faces adversity with a big, beaming smile. Here's how Alexander McCall Smith describes her: She was a good detective, and a good woman. A good woman in a good country, one might say. She loved her country, Botswana, which is a place of peace, and she loved Africa, for all its trials. I am not ashamed to be called an African patriot, said Mma Ramotswe. 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. ................................... Alongside the simple detective stories runs the story of Mme Ramotswe herself, and her blossoming relationship with Mr J.L.B. Matekoni who runs the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motor Company and who fixes her little white van. And alongside that runs the portrayal of Botswana itself. This is a positive, warm picture of Botswana as a country that is quite far removed from Western civilisation ? a beautiful, compassionate country where everyone is treated equally, and where everyone looks after one another. Botswana is a successful, wealthy place to live, and the Batswana are fiercely proud to belong to it. It's not often that Africa is described in such a positive way and it really does give you an insight into a completely different culture, where rain and cattle are of paramount importance. Africa is so often portrayed with images of war and of starving children that it is wonderful to read something which has such a different outlook. It's not just the country that is described positively ? the outlook on everything, including the human condition is described positively and reading the first book lef
                          t me uplifted, cheered and with a smile on my face, albeit probably not as big as Mme Ramotswe's. I'm now mid-way through the fourth book in the series and am beginning to ask myself if I will be able to go back to reading more conventional authors, who by comparison, write such convoluted prose about such convoluted situations. I only wish there were more books like this one!

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                            12.03.2004 21:07
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                            Precious Ramotswe would like to be the Miss Marple of the African continent. When her father dies, she does as he has asked ? as any good daughter would ? and sets up a business. Mma Ramotswe's business is not exactly the one her father had imagined, though. Precious sets up the very first ladies' private detective agency in Botswana. Its assets are modest: an office; an old white van; two desks; two chairs; a telephone and an underworked secretary. Unambitious this may seem but the real asset to Mma Ramotswe's detective agency is Mma Ramotswe herself. An ample woman ? "Hey fat lady, what are you doing sitting beneath that tree?" ? Precious Ramotswe has much experience in life, a keen intelligence and an irrepressible desire to help people and to do good. With her minimal practical resources and her infinite stores of wisdom and keen perception, she sets out to solve the cases of the missing boy, the missing husband, the stolen car, the wayward daughter and ? her very first case - the father impostor. Do not expect a twisting, turning mystery story. Expect a sweet, heart-warming story about a wise, kind, sensible woman. McCall Smith's writing is fluid, accessible and highly evocative. There are some beautiful descriptions of Africa and its vast, often empty expanses. There is also a gentle, but sharply observed flow of dry humour. McCall's descriptions of his host of supporting characters are, unerringly, right on the button. Mr Patel, for example, the wealthy Indian with the wayward daughter, has an over the top house decorated in "Delhi Rococco" style I loved that! Structurally the book is? well? eccentric. All the various plot threads resolve themselves by the end, but there is a fair amount of meandering along the way. I imagine this was deliberate ? &
                            #80;recious Ramotswe is not a woman in a hurry, just as Africa, in McCall's vision, should not be a continent in a hurry ? and I did not mind it at all. The diversionary chapter in which Obed Ramotswe tells the story of his life working in South African mines I found sad but beautiful. Revenge and retribution are not themes of The No1 Ladies' Detective Agency ? no one dies a horrible death, people are not persecuted for their sins ? but reconciliation, understanding, honour and justice are real, running issues. I found this deeply refreshing. Even more refreshing was the way in which McCall describes love in terms of all our senses and with reference to everything in our daily lives. This, to me, is just as we should all describe it: rooted in all that we do and all that we are. Like this: "He looked at her in the darkness, at this woman who was everything to him ? mother, Africa, wisdom, understanding, good things to eat, pumpkins, chicken, the smell of sweet cattle breath, the white sky across the endless, endless bush, and the giraffe that cried, giving its tears for women to daub on their baskets; O Botswana, my country, my place." Lovely. McCall Smith has been criticised for presenting a patronising, condescending picture of Africa and its people. Critics say that his characters are mere caricatures representing an almost offensive - and certainly anachronistic - view of Africans as simple, childlike natives. Oh, hear me sigh. Why, just because something is not arch, or sarcastic or satirically self-aware, must it be not only unfashionable, but also patronising? What is wrong with simplicity? What is wrong with writing about good people? Good people are not necessarily foolish or ripe for patronising. What is wrong with niceness? The No.1 Ladies
                            9; Detective Agency is a nice book but it is not a naïve one. It sees and acknowledges evil and it is not afraid to face it. Precious Ramotswe is a good woman but she is also a wise woman with an awareness of human nature borne from experience. She is the wise grandmother or aunt to whom you often turned as a child when you were in need of advice. Frankly, I think the literary world could do with a few more like her. We have edgy in plenty in books, do we not? We have plenty of leading characters who carry their "issues" like a badge of pride. In any case, underneath the feel-good factor in No1 Ladies' Detective Agency runs a rueful, honest commentary on some of the problems facing Africa: gender issues; development; poverty; "progress". I don't think McCall Smith presents a patronising view of these issues at all; I think he gets right to the heart of them. And, in his gentle, distilled words, I think he has more of the answers to these problems than do the tub-thumpers and satirists. We need more people like Mma Ramotswe and if we had them, the world would be a better place. I truly enjoyed reading The No1 Ladies' Detective Agency, but, if I am honest, I shall not be rushing over to Amazon to buy the following books in the series. This is not so much a matter of my not thinking they would be worth my while, because I am quite sure that they would be. It is more a matter of so many writers, so many books and so little time. I am not really a "series person" and I think I would rather move on to pastures new. Whether you are a "series person" or not, though, I am sure you would enjoy this first of McCall's LDA books. It reads wonderfully as a standalone novel and achieves enough closure for you to feel satisfi
                            ed. Yet also, it sets up an endearing, interesting character for anyone who likes to see a favourite person appear again and again. It is a captivating little book, wonderfully uplifting to read. As for my title: well, it says it all really, I think. I found it among the testimonials on the inside cover of the book. Amidst the various lit crit sound bites from the usual [pompous] reviewing suspects there are a few words from Flea of the Red Hot Chilli Peppers. With a similarly simple, direct approach to that of Precious Ramotswe, I think he hit the nail on the head of this book's appeal. And so, I will echo him? ? if you like to be happy, I highly recommend The No1 Ladies' Detective Agency. ISBN: 0 349 11675 X

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