Friday, December 31, 2010

194 (2010 #59). The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

by Alexander McCall Smith,
read by Lisette Lecat

I listened to this book back in June for an online book discussion.  I'd heard a lot about this series, but I have to say, I have mixed feelings about this book.

In Botswana in south Africa, Mma (pronounced "mah" and meaning mother or Mrs. in Setswana, the language of Botswana) Precious Ramotswe decides she wants to be a detective.  She mostly takes on smaller cases, such as ones involving a con man pretending to be a long-lost father, twin doctors (one degreed, one not), cheating husbands, and a stolen Mercedes, solving them with hunches, intuition, creativity, and common sense.  The cases are realistic and could be boring, but the author uses humor to carry the plot along.  The vignette structure and slow, easy-going pace of the novel made it easy to pick up and put down the book as needed.

I liked Mma Ramotswe and could relate to her.  She's described as "traditionally built," she suffered from an awful first husband and was reluctant to try again, she's resourceful both in her private life and in her business, she tries to help others but stands up for herself.  She is fiercely independent and practical.  She is also very honest but believes lies are sometimes justified. She doesn't like people who are bullies or otherwise abuse their positions and/or power. She is also quite fearless--except when it comes to snakes.  The tension she has with traditional African society is very believable, maybe one of the most believable elements of the book. (You don't have to love, or even approve of, everything in your society in order to love the society as a whole.)  I liked her independence, and her values. She has a unique voice which carried the novel well.

The one "big" case that provides the overall tension in the book concerns a boy kidnapped by a witch doctor.  However, I found this story to be the weakest and least believable in the book.  Also jarring was a personal decision Precious makes at the end of the book, that seems out of character for her.  I didn't like this book well enough to be compelled to read the rest of the series, yet I would choose another Precious book over many other series books if I needed a quick, easy read.

Alexander McCall Smith is a white Scotsman who is a professor of medical law at Edinburgh University.  He was born in what is now Zimbabwe, taught law at the University of Botswana, and written a book on criminal law in Botswana. Narrator Lisette Lecat is a native of South Africa, who lived in Spain, France, and England where she worked as an actress, voiceover artist, journalist and translator.  She now lives in the USA, narrates audiobooks and writes plays.  She is especially good at characterization and accents in this book, and gave me a good feel for the south African setting.

© Amanda Pape - 2010

[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]

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