Sometimes you just need a cozy, comfort read, you know? That’s what The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books are for me. Although there is an element of mystery involved in these books (and the ones at my library are actually shelved with the mysteries), you won’t find Precious Ramotswe brandishing a gun to protect herself against a violent criminal she has been trailing for weeks. No, instead you’ll find her sipping bush tea and contemplating her upcoming marriage to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, owner and chief mechanic of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. Mma Ramotswe does rely on her wit and her womanly intuition to solve a few mysteries, but there’s more observation, characterization, and even philosophical pondering than whodunnit in these novels.
In Tears of the Giraffe, Mma Ramotswe is hired to find out what happened to a young American man who disappeared about ten years ago from a communal farm in Botswana where he worked. There is also the case of the philandering wife of a mild-mannered butcher shop owner, and to top it all off, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s housekeeper is angry and vengeful over the fact that her nice little apple cart is about to be upset with his impending marriage. Mma Ramotswe promotes her secretary, Mma Makutsi, to assistant private investigator, and together they grapple with some very large philosophical and moral issues. The best part of the story, though, is when Mma Ramotswe and Rra Matekoni find themselves in the unexpected position of parenting a lovely pair of siblings that Rra Matekoni brings home with him one day from the orphanage where he often volunteers.
Here are a few nice snippets from the book, to whet your appetite:
This one is from the perspective of the missing boy’s mother, a woman who came to Africa from the U.S. and found her true home:
I think I can say that I had never been happier in my life. We had found a country where the people treated one anther well, with respect, and where there were values other than the grab, grab, grab which prevails back home. I felt humbled, in a way. Everything about my own country seemed so shoddy and superficial when held up against what I saw in Africa. People suffered here, and many of them had very little, but they had this wonderful feeling for others. When I first heard African people calling others–complete strangers–their brother or their sister, it sounded odd to my ears. But after a while I knew exactly what it meant and I started to think the same way. (29-30)
I’ve always had a latent interest in Africa, and reading these books fulfills a certain desire I have to know more of that continent. (I realize that Africa is made up of so many very disparate countries, but surely Botswana must be one of the most beautiful!)
I love this description:
By midday any vehicle left out in the sun would be almost impossible to touch, the seats too hot for exposed flesh, the steering wheel a rim of fire. Shade would prevent this, and under every tree there were nests of cars, nosed up against the trunks, like piglets to a sow, in order to enjoy the maximum protection afforded by the incomplete panoply of grey-green foliage. (55)
And another nice word picture:
Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni looked down at his shoes, and remembered, for a moment, how it was to be a child, back in the village, all those years ago. And remembered how he had experienced the kindness of the local mechanic, who had let him polish trucks and help with the mending of punctures, and who by this kindess had revealed and nurtured a vocation. It was easy to make a difference to other people’s lives, so easy to change the little room in which people lived their life. (83)
I could go on and on, really. I’ve read several books by Alexander McCall Smith, but The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency remains my favorite series. Steady Eddie and I have even watched a few episodes of the cancelled HBO series based on the books (we got them from Netflix and from the library) and enjoyed them. The program has the same gentle, rhythmic feel that I’ve come to love about the books, and the actress who plays Mma Ramotswe plays her just like I’d imagine her to be. Reading about Precious Ramotswe and her life in Botswana is soothing and enjoyable, the perfect bedtime read. Highly Recommended! (Anchor, 2000)
Other books by Alexander McCall Smith I’ve read and reviewed: