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Certainly no defective detective!
on 6 August 2015
'Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of the Kgale Hill. These were its assets: a tiny white van, two desks, two chairs, a telephone, and an old typewriter. There was a teapot, in which Mma Ramotswe - the only lady private detective in Botswana - brewed redbush tea. And three mugs - one for herself, one for her secretary, and one for the client. What else does a detective agency really need?'
A few economically descriptive lines of introduction, and the scene is perfectly set...
As well as the perpetually endearing, big-hearted, and big-bodied Mma Precious Ramotswe herself. there is of course a whole host of deliciously appealing characters still waiting in the wings. There's the agency's formidable secretary, Mma Makutsi ('Miss ninety-seven per cent', though perhaps the character is a little under-used in this initial instalment); there's Dr Maketsi (a close friend from Mma Ramotswe's home village of Mochudi); there's Mr J L B Matekoni (the ever-helpful proprietor of 'Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors', hailing also from Mochudi, and so hopelessly in love with our very own lady detective); there's Note Mokoti (our lady detective's worthless first love); there's Charlie Gotso (Gaborone's premier local gangster); and last but not least, Obed Ramotswe - the beloved father whose passing made it possible for Botswana's only ladies' detective agency to exist, and who is never very far from Precious's thoughts.
The twenty-two chapters of this book don't really contain tales of detection in the purest sense of the word and shouldn't be approached with that expectation in mind. They are, instead, rather gentle - even whimsical - examinations of a place and a people so utterly captivating that you desperately hope that it does all exist just so, exactly as portrayed...even though a niggling doubt persists that it can't quite be true - can it...? For if this IS Botswana, then and now, and if these are its people - well, who wouldn't want to visit or even live there...? This is the fundamental joy of this novel: its depiction of time, place, and people - clad in such unalloyed appeal!
Some reviewers have criticised the style of prose adopted here by Alexander McCall Smith - that it lacks sophistication. Well, I suppose it does. But so what? I certainly wasn't expecting Tolstoy or Dostoyevsky - and I wouldn't want the contributions from either, in this context, because that simply wouldn't work; it wouldn't fit. Mr McCall Smith has resorted to a style, on the contrary, that works a treat because it perfectly sets the tone of place and personalities: the people and their country are (mostly) honest, candid, and uncomplicated - and surely, so must be the language and idiom that defines them, too!
I thoroughly enjoyed 'The No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' and don't fully understand how anyone who reads it could fail to be beguiled by the citizens of Botswana and its capital, Gaborone - and in particular, by the exploits of the one very special resident who lives in the corner house on Zebra Drive. As far as introductory volumes go, it's a winner as far as I'm concerned...though stretching the entire series to a considerable 15 volumes does present something of a daunting challenge, at this moment in time, and perhaps does carry the faintest whiff of 'overkill' about it...