The next book chosen for me the all-knowing TBR jar is one I recently received from a Paperback Swap exchange- the first of Alexander McCall Smith’s mystery series, No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.
This was a pleasant change of pace from what I typically read, and it is definitely fitting for the beginning of summer on the East Coast as it takes place in Botswana (which I can only imagine is hotter than hell).
No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency tells the story of Mma Precious Ramotswe, the very definition of a sassy black woman, who opens her own business as a private detective in her home country of Botswana. We learn a great deal about her background as a survivor of abuse and how these experiences and humble upbringings drive her be a quick, witty, and successful private detective. She is beyond clever and, perhaps most telling, she don’t need no man.
I absolutely loved Mma Ramotswe’s character. She is what many women strive to become at some point in their lives. She’s quick, intelligent, and fiercely independent. She’s learned from her mistakes in the past, as far as I can tell from only reading Book 1, and this drives her to remain true to herself. We see this when she turns down a marriage proposal from the mechanic, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, early on.
There is also a glory to Mma in that she is fabulously imperfect. McCall Smith describes her on more than one occasion as being a large woman, and her size never seems to bother her. Her falling victim to an abusive man also allots for empathy/sympathy from the reader. Even those with the most intelligence, wit, and personality find themselves in terrible situations.
Despite my love for Mma, there’s the sparkling, neon elephant in the room when it comes to No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, and that is the fact that it is written by a white man. Alexander McCall Smith is a native African, but I know he has taken heat for his series that depicts the lives of black Africans. The story is interesting and fun, but it can hardly be classified as compelling. The characters are even less compelling (outside of Mma Ramotswe); they are caricatures instead of real people. There is absolutely no depth to any of them, which adds to the rapidity of the story.
Another glaring issue with No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is the fact that the mysteries aren’t really mysteries. Scooby Doo had more intense mysteries. The problems Mma Ramotswe solves are largely just that- problems. They aren’t intense enough issues that would warrant calling the police, minus one that I won’t spoil. But I’ve never met a private detective and know little of the nature of their work, so maybe this is what they do all day!
Overall, I think No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a pretty fun, light read, perfect for traveling. It’s short (about 230 pages) and takes no time to read. Just don’t dive head first into the shallow end of this novel. You’ll crack your skull and won’t be able to read the other 15 books.