The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith © 2002 Anchor Books
Don’t you love it when a book finds you? I mean, a good book, a surprisingly captivating novel that falls into your hands by the sheer forces of Providence. Such happened to me recently, and I’d like to tell you dear readers about this first in what I learned is a series of novels.
I belong to an internet free cycle network by which I became the recipient of a mishmash of miscellaneous goods—not the least of these a copy of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. I stashed the book on my shelf but came upon it later while digging through my bookcases for light reading like one might rummage through the cupboards and fridge looking for a snack.
I didn’t read the summary on the back nor the author’s bio. I just, leaned back, opened up, and started reading. I thoroughly enjoyed the short journey guided by Alexander McCall Smith.
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is set in South Africa in what I presume to be the modern day. The main character is the very clever and likable Precious Ramotswe who uses her inheritance from her father to open up a private detective agency in the town of Gaborone. She has no other credentials, other than life experience and good, logical sense.
The author describes Precious’s more amusing cases, like searching for a missing husband, exposing a con artist, and learning the identity of a daughter’s mysterious boyfriend. He also describes the colorful people in Precious’s life and some of the aspects of her life outside the agency. The undercurrent of the book is her most dangerous case; the disappearance of an eleven year old boy, thought to have been abducted by medicine men.
Between the lines, Smith weaves cultural facts about a very gentile and gracious society who lead simple lives surrounded by natural dangers and tribal skirmishes. One particular scene made my skin crawl, when Precious drives over a cobra that leaps up into the under carriage of her van.
Smith’s vivid characterization and story telling skills compensate for poorly timed back story exposition and indiscriminate POV switches. How did Smith get away with such faux pas, when as aspiring writers are so emphatically warned to avoid them?
As blessing would have it, I found the latest edition in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, in the sales rack at Hastings! Bonus! For a fun, easy, but educational read, I highly recommend The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency.