#CBR7 Review #180: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

My aunt first introduced me to Alexander McCall Smith several years ago, when she bought me the first four books in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. I thought they were charming and made for perfect bedtime reading. And so I devoured them, not realizing that I would have to WAIT for the next books to come out. That’s the problem with a series you like…the waiting. Thankfully, Mr. McCall Smith is a productive and voracious writer, so you don’t have to wait too long. I’ll have to admit, though, that I got *so* paranoid about not having an AMS book to read while waiting that I’ve hoarded up too many, and now I’m behind in the series. Such is life, no? Especially when you’ve got SO MANY things to read…

I re-read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, because it was the first book that my ENGL 2000 class had to read. As far as a global/Anglophone text goes, this isn’t the best example, and were my students all English majors, I would have selected a different novel. However. I have a class of 33, most of whom are non-majors taking this course for general education credit. I thought that an interesting, compelling, well-written but easy-to-understand book would be just the ticket. And based on discussions we had in class, the students agreed. I had several students tell me how much they enjoyed it, and one male student told me while he wasn’t sure at first, he really got into the novel at the end. And there was an incredibly fierce debate about the ending. Hooray!

Precious Ramotswe is a true Batswana—that is, a woman of Botswana. She is connected to her people and their traditions, yet she is also very modern in that she wants something more for herself. When her father leaves her an inheritance of cattle upon his death, she decides to strike out on a new venture and start a business—a detective business. The novel sets up the rest of the series—Mma Ramotswe’s business, her relationship with her best friend, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, and her secretary, Mma Grace Makutsi, with her score of 97%. And of course, there’s a past that Mma Ramotswe must also come to terms with.

I had forgotten how entirely delightful and charming the series was, and I’ll have to wade through them during stressful points in the semester—especially finals. I recommend the series, because they are lovely and also really gentle. That’s not a criticism, by the way. Sometimes, I need something that’s a little bit different than my typical fare. But somehow, McCall Smith avoids the saccharine and gets at genuine human emotion, which, in my opinion, is a tough balance to maintain.


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