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The No. 1 Ladies' Hair-Teasin' and Veranda-Sittin' Agency

She was a traditionally built lady, after all, and she did not have to worry about dress size, unlike those poor, neurotic people who were always looking in mirrors and thinking that they were too big. What was too big, anyway? Who was to tell another person what size they should be? It was a form of dictatorship, by the thin, and she was not having any of it. If these thin people became any more insistent, then the more generously sized people would just have to sit on them. Yes, that would teach them! Hah!

- Morality for Beautiful Girls

I'd heard of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency for months, or maybe even years. Somehow the seldom-used word "Ladies" in the title made me assume that it was some kind of Ya-Ya Sisterhood or Steel Magnolias thing about Southern women drinking sweet tea and gossiping and having big hair and big drama... and occasionally solving mysteries. No thank you. I never even bothered to pick up the book and read the back.

When I was in England, I stopped by a used book store before leaving, to pick up something to read on the plane. The store owner asked what I was looking for and I told him "Something light and fun for reading on a plane. Like, maybe a murder mystery. Yeah, murder is always light and fun." He directed me toward the paperback mysteries and suggested The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency among other things. I finally got around to reading the back and thought, "Well, it's not at all what I assumed it would be about. I'll give it a try, since it's used and therefore cheap¹." I read all of the books I'd brought on the plane (including what I suspect to be The Worst Book in the World) before taking a crack at this Botswanan lady detective.

It turns out she's delightful. With no training or experience as a detective, Precious Ramotswe used her inheritance from her father's death to set up the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Botswana. She mostly solves mysteries (missing persons, trailing husbands suspected of adultery, investigating allegations of poisoning) based on her knowledge of human nature. Sometimes she's even wrong, which is a rather refreshing change from those infallible detectives like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. The books have an amusing writing style and are funny and touching and an interesting view of life in Botswana and Mma Ramotswe's opinions on the way Africa has changed over her lifetime.

¹ Not that anything in England is cheap.

srah - Wednesday, 8 November 2006 - 10:31 PM
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Comments (6)

gravatar Denzylle - November 9, 2006 - 8:52 AM -

Alexander McCall Smith is a close neighbour of Ian Rankin. The two of them, and JK Rowling, all live on the same street.

Rankin's latest novel (the penultimate Rebus) came out when you were over here. I went to hear him talk last week and, as always, he tells stories about AMcCS sitting at his desk in the window, typing away, as Ian walks back from taking his sons to school. Ian says 'Sandy' can write a book in a week and puts him (Rankin) to shame.

Try McCall Smith's Scotland Street books.

gravatar srah - November 9, 2006 - 10:43 AM -

Awesome! More to read.

gravatar alfie - November 9, 2006 - 11:40 AM -

I have one of the Scotland Street books, you can borrow it when you come home.

gravatar srah - November 9, 2006 - 12:21 PM -

Mommy has TN1LDA if you want to read that.

gravatar Cheryl - November 9, 2006 - 12:57 PM -

The girl who I'm subletting from has it. I like to say "It came with the place." It is on my pile of "to-read" books, but I don't think I'll get to it before I move.

gravatar Not your mom - November 9, 2006 - 3:45 PM -

I have read several of the Lady Detective books and find them delightful. Not so much for the mysteries solved, but for her attitude toward life.

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