The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith tells the delightful story of Precious Ramotswe who decides to open the first and only Ladies’ Detective Agency in Gaberone, Botswana. The book begins by tracing the stories of her youth: the untimely death of her mother, her excellence in a village school, her supportive cattle-rearing father, her dastardly marriage to a Jazz trumpeteer and her decision to open a detective agency in Gaberone, close to the South African border.
The language in the book is simple and straightforward, an easy pace that keeps the pages turning. Where Alexander McCall Smith excels is in his heartfelt descriptions of Africa: the continent, the people, the landscapes, the customs. Africa is alive and loved like in no other book. Alexander McCall Smith, born in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), is an African at heart. There is no ‘oh poor Africa’ in his tone or descriptions. However, there does seem to be some oversimplification of both characters and the landscape.
Nonetheless, Precious Ramotswe is one of the most endearing characters you will encounter. Intelligent, honest, dishonest (when seeking the truth), unabashedly fat, smart, silly, prone to errors — human, in other words.
Where the first book lacks is in the actual mysteries that Precious solves. Some of them are simple and predictable, while some of them (especially the ones where Precious is outwitted) come as a delightful surprise.
I would definitely recommend school kids to read this series — not just but for the delightful stories and characters, but also to have another window into the heart of Africa.