Precious Ramotswe inherits her father's cattle herd and sells it to start a new life. The options are limited for a woman in Botswana. She sets out on an uncharted course, opening the first private detective agency run by a woman. At least in Botswana. Mma Ramotswe is a commanding figure. She's stout, observant and reasons with precise logic. She would have made a great politician. Instead, she buys a house, an office, hires a secretary, installs a telephone - and sits down to wait for clients. It seems she's likely to shut it all down within a week.
Instead, clients come calling. The result is a series of vignettes of her clients' problems and their resolutions. There are wandering husbands, rebellious teen-age children [are there any other kind?] and a missing, probably murdered child. Justice, although never mentioned by either McCall Smith or Mma Ramotswe, is an important element throughout these episodes. Justice and the value of being an African. McCall is knowledgeable about Southern Africa and its people. He imparts that understanding with marvelous skill. His Scottish background never intrudes or distracts. Except perhaps in one of Mma's more bizarre cases. The Scots treasure their reputation for producing fine doctors. One of Mma Ramotswe's mysteries is the occasionally inept doctor. It is clearly the highlight of this superb book.
Mma Ramotswe, in establishing her unique agency, might be thought to have shed her personal life. After all, she had a brief, unhappy marriage. Men are to be watched, controlled, and manipulated in ways to prevent their wandering. Yet, as might be expected, there is a man in her town whose value transcends the image dominated by wandering husbands or lovers. He knows her worth and she his, but his stumbling proposal is rebuffed. There's no strain on the friendship, however, and it becomes clear the two will be useful to each other in the future.
McCall Smith has accomplished something very special with this book. It cries out for a sequel [of which there are now four] for many reasons. It certainly shatters the long-standing image of the "detective" novel with its stacks of corpses, inept policemen and implausible characters. Mma Ramotswe is nothing more than a capable woman without special powers. She simply focusses on the problem at hand, keeps distractions at bay and refuses to deal in absolutes. McCall Smith's powers of characterisation, locale and story place him far above the traditional examples of the "mystery" genre. He is compelling reading for anyone. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]
on 2 December 2001
A cracking start to the trilogy (so far - more I hope on the way) sees the establishment of Botswana's number one detective agency for ladies. And if you want to read something happy and uplifting for a change, this will send your spirits soaring. Precious Ramotswe is the complete antithesis of the emaciated, fashion-conscious, glamourous heroine we are often stuck with nowadays. A huge, beautiful, wise and proud woman who does not suffer fools at all - sets out against all odds to use her inheritance to make a real difference to other people's lives. If you think it's going to be a worthy, dull, stick of a read with Africa and Africans portrayed as victims, think again. I haven't laughed so much in a long time and it's rare to read a book with so much humanity.
If you have not read The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, I strongly urge you to do so before reading Tears of the Giraffe. Otherwise, this beautiful novel will seem like a four star effort as you fail to appreciate and integrate the background of Precious Ramotswe into your thinking as it was described in the earlier book.
Tears of the Giraffe isn't so much a sequel as a continuation of the events in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. As that book ended, Mma Ramatswe accepted the proposal of Mr J.L.B. Matekoni. In Tears of the Giraffe, the couple decides in which of their houses they will live, picks out a ring and decides about having children. Each event has its unexpected twists . . . including an attempt by Mr Matekoni's maid to derail the marriage.
There is less happening at the detective agency than in the prior story. This book involves solving only two mysteries, a wandering wife and a missing son. Mma Ramatswe learns that her able secretary wants to become a detective, and the savvy head of the agency tries out Mma Makutsi's talents with encouraging results.
Both story lines focus on questions of right and wrong. As a prospective spouse, what are the right reactions to one's fiancé or fiancée? As a detective, how much may one do wrong to avoid greater wrongs? To one's community, what is owed? To one's employees, what opportunities should be opened? In each case, the suggestion is that all responsibilities must be borne . . . and borne bravely . . . but in a way that is tempered with love for one's fellow people.
As with The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Africa itself plays a role stronger than any single character in defining what is thought and done. The strong and distinct atmosphere makes the book more enchanting to those who do not know Africa.
The story is strengthened by alternating narrators among many different characters and using lots of dialogue so that each part of the novel is vivid and varied. It's as though six or seven almost unconnected short stories were woven together into a seamless novel. It's an impressive accomplishment.
As I finished the book, I wondered how much better off we all would be if we each took a strong responsibility for all those we meet and touch.
I can think of no better book for someone to read as their introduction to detective fiction. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency combines heart-warming values, love, a spunky female protagonist, African wildlife and every day problems into a delightful social commentary on the dangers and foibles of vanity and wealth. Along the way, there are little problems to be solved, little in terms of Sherlock Holmes perhaps, but not so little in terms of the lives of the people in Botswana.
The structure of the book is a little unusual for detective fiction. The main focus is on the life of Mma Precious Ramotswe, a round women in her late thirties with a failed marriage behind her, who starts a storefront detective agency with the money her father left her when he died. Botswana doesn't have any other private detectives, and women usually have circumscribed roles in the society. But Precious knows that women notice more than men, and should make good detectives. Her father had hoped, instead, that she would buy an existing business. Like most new business people, she worries about going broke. She knows that first impressions count, so she buys and spruces up a building . . . and hires a secretary she cannot afford. In the first month, the secretary's salary comes to more than Precious' income.
But as time passes, clients come to Precious with their problems. Many are related to concerns about the fidelity of a husband. Two involve missing persons. Another looks at a teenage rebellion. One seems like a psychiatric problem -- a doctor who alternates between being brilliant and incompetent. These cases become like short stories built inside the novel. Each story has a particularly rich African heritage . . . as does the flashback into her father's life as a miner. Precious is a common sense detective. She doesn't use advanced technology. She hasn't had any formal training. But she's dogged and willing to learn, and has an imaginative way of getting to the truth.
By her sex, her locale and her heritage, Precious is an underdog. But she's an underdog who was raised with lots of love, and knows a good person when she sees one. By the African standards of her neighbors, she's relatively well-to-do . . . but life is a struggle because of attitudes towards women. Anyone who feels that women can do anything they set their minds to will be cheering Precious on.
While this book may not sound cerebral, several of the mysteries (especially the man who disappeared while going to church, the strange doctor and the missing boy) have very sophisticated plot twists and confrontations with key witnesses that remind me of the best of the Perry Mason mysteries . . . except they are set in Botswana.
In the background, there's an emerging love interest between precious and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni (who keeps her van running smoothly and helps in some of the mysteries) that spices up the book.
Anyone who reads this book with an open heart and mind will want to continue with the series.
As I finished this book, I found myself thinking about what views we all share today about what people can and cannot do that are false in reality. Every time I see "disabled" athletes performing tasks that I would never dare to do, I realize that our limitations are in our minds. Dare to do what you were born to do! And lead with a loving heart.
This second entry in Smith's Botswana-set series picks up right where the wonderful The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency left off. Indeed, the two books are utterly seamless, and it'd be a real shame to read this without reading its predecessor first. The book picks up with the engagement of "traditionally built" Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's sole woman detective, to local master mechanic Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. While the structure is the same as the first book—a missing son as the central running mystery, and some smaller cases interspersed—the new couple's relationship is the real focus.
So, while Precious is asked by an American woman to find out what happened to her son, who disappeared from a commune ten years previously, she must also negotiate the pitfalls of setting up house with Mr. Matekoni, the acquisition of an engagement ring, and the dastardly schemes of Mr. Matekoni's nasty housekeeper, and the unexpected addition of two foster children to her household. All of which she does with her keen sense of human nature and wisdom. Her secretary/typist is also given increased attention, allowed to take on the case of a cheating wife all by herself.
Built into the stories are ruminations of the tensions between modernity and traditional values. There are a number of passages that attempt to capture the essence of Africa, and how that noble vision is under constant assault by greed, corruption, and power. The adventures of Precious and her cohort are a warm antidote to the often depressing news that dominates coverage of Africa in the West. Smith writes in a delightfully fluid and simple prose with pacing that makes the book quite difficult to put down. The series thankfully continues with Morality for Beautiful Girls and The Kalahari Typing School For Men, with further volumes to follow, one hopes.
Mma.Ramotswe returns in "Tears of the Giraffe" the second novel about the exploits of "The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency". This is an heartwarming pleasurable read.Mma Ramotswe is the only female detective in Botswana, she solves her cases using common sense and a razor sharp intelligence.As Mma. Ramotswe states "Suspicious? Call the No.1 ladies Detective Agency.We find things out...." In this book Precious Ramotswe is engaged, has promoted her secretary to assistant detective (with sucessful results) and has accidentally acquired two children.Each chapter tells us a different tale from the agency and by the end all of the mysteries are solved. I enjoyed this book as much as the first and again it tells us a little more about life in Botswana, a country of tradition and warmth where you may call everyone "brother" or "sister". This is not just a detective story but it is also a voyage through Africa that is told with humour,warmth and great respect for its peoples.I would recommend this book wholeheartedly along with all the others in the series....
on 2 March 2002
What a treat of a book where character and plot move forward hand in hand.
Tears of the Giraffe explores the strangeness and magic of Botswana while allowing the protagonist, Mma Ramotswe, founder of the No. 1 Detective Agency and her secretary/assistant, the plain, intelligent and ambitious, Mma Makutsi, a down to earth and philosophical approach to the business of detection.
The two women complement each other. Mma Makutsi's deference to her boss occasionally overwhelmed by her frankness...
The plot of Tears of the Giraffe moves effortlessly from daily life in Botswana, through politics, environmental issues, magic and tradition, disability and social responsibility, grief and loss with delicacy and humour. It is a book with depth and grace but never heavy handed.
This is the perfect read for a miserable, cold Sunday in the UK.
on 2 August 2003
Our heroine does not carry a gun, run after suspects in ridiculous pursuits. Rather Precious Ramotswe (or Mma Ramotswe as she's better known)uses her sharp wit and fenale charm to solve whatever case her clients send her way.
Mma Ramotswe is from Botswana, and proud of it. A size 22 and not ashamed of it (and her unfashionable size doesn't stop her from having her fair share of male attention). Neither is she superwoman. Too many European heroines take on home and work, Mma Ramotswe leaves much of the domestic side to her cleaner and enjoys life.
It's a gentle novel, humourous rather than comic. It doesn't shy away from comtemporary African problems (Aids, witchcraft), but they are not central to the story, and the author does not offer solutions, quick fix or otherwise. They are there to reflect the society and culture of Botswana. Rather, the story builds up the character of Mma Ramotswe and shows an African woman cutting a sway in a male orientated society.
Morality for Beautiful Girls is the third novel in the series about Precious Ramotswe and her detective agency in Botswana, and covers the period of one month after the events in Tears of the Giraffe. Be sure to read The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Tears of the Giraffe before this book, or you will probably think this story is a three star effort. Many reviews describe these books as mysteries . . . but they are really novels about a woman who sometimes solves problems for people. Since the first book, the "mysteries" have not been very mysterious, and the appeal of the books lies far apart from the mysteries.
In Morality for Beautiful Girls, Alexander McCall Smith takes a thorough look at the pros and cons of the old communal values found in Botswana's villages compared to the new morality of the urbanizing young in that country. In the process, Mr. Smith makes a powerful case for grafting onto the old values an appreciation for ingenuity, education, effort, organization and courage while dismissing most of the new morality as misinformed at best, and harmful at worst. In so doing, he eloquently describes the potential benefits of a matriarchic society led by determined, talented women who break down traditional boundaries that limit both men and women.
As the story opens, Precious realizes that her concept of helping all those who need her help, regardless of ability to pay, is going to leave the detective agency in perpetual financial trouble. Having agreed to marry Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, who runs a prosperous car repair business, Precious looks at ways to reduce her costs by sharing their resources. Her conclusion: She should move the detective agency to the garage, share Mma Makutsi's time and salary with the garage, and rent out the building she has been using for the agency. All seems to be off to a good start when Mr Matekoni begins acting strangely. With her burgeoning responsibilities and plans, Precious has just too much to do. So she delegates as many items on her "to do" list as possible to others, and gets going on what only she can do. It's like reading a lesson in time management.
During the course of the story, you will meet another unusual youngster who ends up at the orphanage. Precious is caught up in a case of potential poisoning at the behest of a powerful government official who is also a wealthy and well-connected tribal member. Although Precious doesn't want to take on the case, the official and Mma Makutsi bully her into it. While she's away on the case, Mma Makutsi proves to have even more talents than anyone could have expected from either her degree or her experience. In the process, she brings in a major case which she solves on her own involving four potential beauty contest winners.
In the first half of the book, the distress that Precious and Mr J.L.B. Matekoni are experiencing is so palpable that I found myself feeling more and more upset as I read the story. Seldom does "light" fiction affect me that way. I can only ascribe the intensity of my reactions to the quality of the writing and the exceptional care with which the characters have been developed into people for whom anyone would feel great sympathy and empathy. The book ends up leaving some mysteries unsolved, and I found myself wishing that I had a copy of the next book with me so that I could read what happened right away.
As I finished the story, I found myself wondering more about Botswana and why people love it there so much. I recently began working with a businessman in Botswana, and he has promised to help me understand more about that intriguing country. I look forward to being his student in this, as I have enjoyed being a reader of these fine novels.
on 1 August 2006
I had not read any Alexander McCall Smith books before this one but we have an informal book group and this was my choice. We all loved the book as it was such a great read. Precious Ramotswe is described so vividly that it is easy to visualise her with her plaited hair and rather "stout" physique sitting drinking her red bush tea and contemplating her next case! All the characters introduced to us in this book, the first in the series of No.One Ladies Detective Agency, can be imagined vividly as the author describes them so fully. Give this one a go and I can bet that you will want to read the remaining books in the series just to see what Precious does next!