If the key to a good mystery novel is a good detective and an interesting location, the charming not quite your usual whodunit The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency has it in spades. There is absolutely nothing out there quite like Mma (Precious) Ramotswe and her adventures as the only female detective in all of Botswana.

What makes Alexander McCall Smith’s novel stand far above the rest is, in part, the very lyrical quality of his writing: “We don’t forget, thought Mma Ramotswe. Our heads may be small, but they are as full of memories as the sky may be full of swarming bees, thousands and thousands of memories, of smells, of places, of little things that happened to us and which come back, unexpectedly, to remind us who we are.” This is but a small part of the many beautiful moments placed as little gifts here and there in the book for the reader’s enjoyment.

Of course, few of us are familiar with Botswana and Africa in general so any story set in such a place will probably capture your interest for a while. Fortunately, Mma Ramotswe is a strong-headed, independent, self-assured and very intelligent woman whose technique in solving crimes is part King Solomon, part good investigating, part social skills, and due also to her ability to read people help them help her out.

Although there is a major case in The No.! Ladies’ Detective Agency, that of the disappearance of a young boy, there are also quite a few secondary cases and it is McCall Smith’s ability to keep everything rolling along so plausibly that makes this book work and a thriller of sorts. Most interesting is the narrative voice which is reminiscent of someone telling you folk stories from the eras gone by. The author balances the immediacy of his narrative with an adroit ability to shift time occasionally to reveal a follow-up even that takes or took place a couple of years later.

Although this series by McCall Smith is well-established in Britain and elsewhere, it seems that it is only recently that a publisher has been making a real push to get these novels in bookstores. I mean, if I was able to find it at Chapters, they have to be available everywhere else.

The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency comes highly recommended from a reader who is not usually partial to female leads in the genre.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Alexander McCall Smith
Anchor Books
235 pages

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