Author: Alexander McCall Smith, 1998.
Genre: Mystery. African Culture.
Other Details: Paperback. 256 pages.
Following the death of her father Precious Ramotswe uses the money she receives from selling his herd of cattle to set herself up as Botswana's first female private investigator opening The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. In this introductory novel to the series she undertakes a number of cases using her common sense and intuition. While most of the cases are domestic, dealing with philandering husbands, conmen and wayward teenagers, one case involving a missing child does bring her into danger.
This delightful novel has been my 'book in handbag' for a couple of months as its short chapters made it perfect for dipping into at odd moments. I'd seen Anthony Minghella's series on the BBC and adored Mma Ramotswe and her world. While I was familiar with the cases making up the novel I found it much richer, fleshing out the characters and providing beautiful descriptions of Botswana and Africa.
Rather than a traditional mystery it is a series of linked vignettes featuring the cases undertaken by Mma Ramotswe that also provide insight into post-colonial Africa and the wider human condition. There is a great deal of warmth and humour without ignoring the darker side of human nature.
Alexander McCall Smith was born and raised in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) though moved to Scotland when he entered university. He returned to Africa during the 1980s where he taught law at the newly founded University of Botswana. His writing on this series has been described as 'love letters to Botswana' and that was exactly how it struck me when reading.