Wednesday, August 22, 2007

'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency'

by Alexander McCall Smith

Fiction/Mystery, 1998
Abacus paperback, 233 p.
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series - Book 1
(Book #35 for 2007, Summer Mystery Challenge - Book 5)
Wayward daughters. Missing husbands. Philandering partners. Curious conmen. If you’ve got a problem, and no one else can help you, then pay a visit to Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s only – and finest – female private detective.
This wasn’t on my list of possible choices for the challenge but a friend lent it to me recently so I read it as my 5th book for the Summer Mystery Challenge. So many people seem to love it, I think I’ll be rather in the minority by saying that I didn’t really care for it. I found the writing and storylines really simplistic and it just never grabbed me. Rather than one main mystery, it was a lot of simple, little cases that Mma Ramotswe solves, all of which were rather predictable. I’m just getting into reading mysteries but I think I prefer a stronger plot, suspense, and characters that I want to know more about. Based on this one I don’t know if I’d bother with any more in the series, but my friend also lent me the 2nd one so I’ll try it and see if Precious and the others grow on me. Otherwise I might be interested in trying one of the Edinburgh-based series to see if a different setting and characters prove more appealing to me. Any recommendations?

My Rating: 2.5/5


  1. This is not a "witty remark", but I can say that you and I are in the same boat on this book. I rated it exactly the same! I don't understand why it is such a hit with others.

  2. My only experience with Alexander McCall Smith wasn't with a mystery, but with the book he wrote for the Canongate Myth Series, "Dream Angus". I loved it, so I've been meaning to read more of his work, but it sounds like this series might not be the best place for me to go next.

  3. Quite right. I thought it was OK, but I didn't want to run out and read the whole series.

  4. It's really a shame that this series is promoted as a mystery series, because I think it ends up being a disappointment to many readers who go into it expecting just that. It's definitely more a series about the characters and their lives--the mysteries are background stories, really.

    I am one of the people who loves this series--the simplicity of it, the lightness to it. It makes for a great comfort read--for me anyway.

  5. Joy,
    lol! Nice to have some company in the boat! :P

    I'm a little curious to see how his other books compare. I'd love to hear from someone who's read several of them.

    Seems I'm not quite alone in the minority after all.

    Literary Feline,
    I can see how it would be a good comfort read and obviously many people share your opinion. You do have a good point that it perhaps shouldn't really be promoted as a mystery series. Have you tried any of his other series?

  6. I am generally not a mystery reader, not at all. However, I picked this one up for a book group read a couple of years ago, and I didn't have very high expectations. I ended up really enjoying it simply for the cozy feel it gave me (I guess that's what they mean by cozy mysteries), but I haven't picked up the others. Overall, it was a worthwhile way to spend a few hours, but I didn't go nuts for the series like some others.

  7. I have three (or is it four?) of the books in this series, but haven't read any. I remember picking the first up and giving it a try, but was distracted and decided to wait for a better time. My husband read the first few and enjoyed them, but not enough to want to read the entire series. I'll get to them eventually.

  8. Andi,
    I never used to be but I've really been enjoying my mystery reads this summer. I'm beginning to think I'm just less fond of cozies perhaps.

    I didn't hate it. I just wasn't overly excited about it either. I'll try the 2nd one as see how it goes.

  9. I like these books okay but I agree with Literary Feline, I don't think these should be classified as mysteries. The mystery part is usually so weak. I did try one of the Endinburgh based books and really didn't like it.

  10. Iliana,
    Good to know that you didn't like the Edinburgh-based one that you tried. I think I'll stick with Ian Rankin for now. I have plenty of those to keep me busy!

  11. I can entirely understand why anyone might find the stories simplistic. I have read only two or three of the series, but the attraction for me is that I was brought up in Africa, not far from the series' setting, and as soon as I started I was transported back in time and place. Everything is totally authentic, the images, the rhythm of the voices.

    Nevertheless I couldn't read the whole series and I haven't made any attempt to read the Edinburgh ones (used to live near there too!). And yet, Alexander McCall Smith is to visit our area to give a talk just when I am back in England in October. I have booked a ticket.

  12. A,
    It's good to hear that the setting is as authentic as it seemed, since I don't have any personal experience with Africa. I hope you enjoy the talk. Sometimes hearing an author speak can make me want to read their books, but it does go the other way too.


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