REVIEW of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Ladies Detective AgencyUpon the death of her father, Precious Ramotswe sells his herd of cattle and uses the money to set up her own business–a detective agency. As the only lady detective in Botswana, she tracks down cheating husbands, rebellious daughters, deceptive employees, and missing persons. When a heartbroken teacher writes about his son who has disappeared, Mma Ramotswe doubts her abilities to solve the case, but it turns out that even kidnappers and witch doctors cannot reckon with the cunning of the lady detective.

I’ve been hearing about this book for several years, and now, having finally read it, I discovered that it did not disappoint! The world-building is exquisite. The anecdotal style of the narrative unfolds chapter by chapter, with each story leaving you more and more in awe of this sensible, beneficent, courageous woman who is Precious Ramotswe.

“Mma Ramotswe walked back towards her van, not wanting to intrude upon the intimate moments of reunion. She was crying; for her own child, too–remembering the minute hand that had grasped her own, so briefly, while it tried to hold on to a strange world that was slipping away so quickly. There was so much suffering in Africa that it was tempting just to shrug your shoulders and walk away. But you can’t do that, she thought. You just can’t.”

Precious is more than a woman–she is a woman of Africa, inextricably bound to her setting. The novel is a love letter to the continent, its pages reveling in the heat of the Kalahari Desert, the crowded streets of Gaborone, the venemous cobras, the thorny acacia trees, the redbush tea. Precious’ friend, the laconic mechanic J.L.B. Matekoni, expresses this best:

“He looked at her in the darkness, at this woman who was everything to him–mother, Africa, wisdom, understanding, the breath, the white sky across the endless, endless bush, and the the giraffe that cried, giving its tears for women to daub on their baskets; O Botswana, my country, my place.”

I’ll be looking out for the next book in this series. It goes without saying that this book is: Recommended.

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