Book Briefs

By TERRY MATHEWS | News-Telegram Arts Editor

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Oct 1, 2007 - Most of his fans discovered Scottish writer Alexander McCall Smith when he was interviewed on one of the morning shows after the sudden and somewhat surprising success of this book. 

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
By Alexander McCall SmithAnchor $12.95.235 pp.
5/5 Stars

Over the past few years, I’ve read and collected all the books about Precious Ramotswe, proud owner ofThe No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Botswana. I’ve also enjoyed a lovely e-mail correspondence with the author.

I can find no fault with the books. They are not complex who-done-it thrillers, but Precious Ramotswe does not lead a thrilling life. She lives at a slower pace, more in tune with nature and her intuition than those in western civilization. The mysteries she solves are not difficult, but she takes great pride in her professionalism and treats each client with care and compassion.

I particularly like reading about the daily happenings in Mma Ramotswe's life. I like reading about her house on Zebra Drive; Grace Makutsi, the bright secretary who scored 97 percent at the Botswana Secretarial College; her companion Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni; her life growing up as the beloved daughter of a devoted father who left his life's work to her so she could open her own business; her disastrous marriage; and the variety of people who seek out her professional assistance.

Some reviewers have compared Mma Ramotswe to Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple. I guess the comparison fits, but it seems to me that Mma Ramotswe would prefer to belong in a category by herself – known as the first female private investigator in Botswana.

Smith’s first book has just been translated to film, starring the wonderful singer Jill Scott as Mma Ramotswe.

When I asked how he liked Scott’s portrayal of his most famous character, McCall Smith replied, “I was delighted to hear that Jill Scott was to play Mma Ramostwe. I met her in Botswana when I went to see the set, and I was very taken with her modest and charming manner.”

In true form, Smith continued his warm praise and kind words, “I think that she will be a very fine Mma Ramotswe and I'm sure that her many fans worldwide will very much enjoy seeing her in this role. It is not a simple role, but I believe that she has risen to the challenge.”

If you like the Jan Karon series about Father Tim and his beloved village of Mitford, then you might want to give The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Series a try.

Tears of the Giraffe

Precious Ramotswe is one of fiction’s most likeable characters. For the uninitiated, Mma Ramotswe is the first female private detective in Botswana. But to say she's only a private detective is like saying that Father Tim (from the At Home in Mitford series) is just a village vicar.

Tears of the Giraffe
$12.95. 240 pp.
5/5 Stars

I don't mind that most of the mysteries Mma Ramotswe solves are pretty transparent and not very dangerous. What I love about these stories is the way the author weaves a spell about simple people, living gracious lives, while being kind (for the most part) to one another.

At the end of a Mma Ramotswe book, I'm left with a feeling of peace.

This is sweet, gentle fiction, set in modern day Africa, but its charm and humanity is universally appealing.




Morality for Beautiful Girls

I loved every minute of the third book in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. 

Morality for Beautiful Girls
$12.95. 227 pp. 
5/5 Stars

Precious Ramotswe is solving problems, including some of her own, moving to a new location and handling life as it comes to her. 

There are three cases in this book, but they're secondary to the true story of life in Mma Ramotswe’s beloved hometown of Gaborone, Botswana. 

Mma Ramotswe's secretary – now assistant – Mma Grace Makutsi gets to work on a case in this book and she handles other chores as well, all with apparent ease as expected from someone who scored an impressive 97 percent at the Botswana Secretarial College.

A word of advice: read the books in order of publication. You'll be glad you did.

The Kalahari Typing School for Men

In the fourth book in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, Precious Ramotswe has issues.

The Kalahari Typing School for Men
$12.95. 102 pp.
5/5 Stars

�First, a strutting, cocky new detective has opened shop in Gaborone and is threatening to siphon off business.�

�One of the children in her care has taken up a bad habit.�

�Her secretary/assistant, Mma Makutsi is involved with a suspicious man and she�s opened a sideline business, teaching men to type.�

�Add a client�s urgent, delicate assignment and you can understand Mma Ramotswe�s predicament.�

�I never tire of stories about Precious, her financ�, her employee and their lives in Africa. True, there is no thrilling action, unless you count a miracle in the garage or the death of a water pump, but there is plenty of heart and some wonderful soul in these delightful stories about the first female detective in Botswana.�

The Full Cupboard of Life

Mma Ramotswe is perplexed by her long engagement to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, the proprietor of the garage next to her office. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni seems to be distracted and Mma Ramotswe can’t find the proper way to find out what’s bothering him and delaying their nuptials.

The Full Cupboard of Life
$12.95.224 pp.
4/5 Stars

Mma Ramotswe is hired to examine the intentions of four suitors of a wealthy woman. 

As always, a visit with Mma Ramotswe and her circle of friends and family gives the reader permission to slow down, sip a cup of tea and be reminded that it really is the simple things that mean the most.




In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

The sixth installment in this charming series finds Precious Ramotswe finally married to mechanic Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. They’re settling into their new life, but not without a few bumps in the road. There’s an intruder in their house, an old flame and new love for Grace Makutsi and an innocent man.

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies
$12.95. 256 pp.
5/5 Stars  

With her usual thoroughness, Mma Ramotswe tackles and resolves each issue with grace, kindness and a happy heart. 

Editor’s note: Blue Shoes and Happiness, the 7th book in this lovely series was reviewed in the Dec. 13 edition and 8th book, The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, was reviewed in the April 8 edition.All are available in paperback.  

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