Alexander McCall Smith – The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

  Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Title: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Series: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Published: 1999
Publisher: Anchor Books
Length: 256 pages
Genre: Fiction/mystery
Why I picked it up: Read A Guide to the Bird of East Africa; this was recommended as similar
Rating: 3.5 stars
Challenges: TBR Double Dare
Buy:  IndieBound Chapters | Check your local bookstore!

Hooray, this is my sort of light-reading. At first glance a fun little book, but there’s really more to it than that (but not too much more). ;P As I mentioned above, I had read A Guide to the Birds of East Africa a couple of years ago (!! how time flies…). I have no idea why I picked that one up, but it was such a sweet little story about a little old man in Africa who has a crush on this little old lady but then this other fancy old man decides he wants to ask the lady to the dance too so they have a bird watching contest to decide who can ask her out. It was a light, fun, enjoyable read with thoughtful and deeper passages throughout, keeping the book grounded and realistic and even dark at times. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency was recommended as being similar, so I happily put it on my TBR list, not picking it up until now! The two books were indeed quite similar in intended audience (I suspect), themes and writing style, which is a good thing because that’s what I was hoping for. 

What I loved most about this book, what kept it nicely rounded, I think, is that it had a lot of different moods and perspectives throughout. Of course, Mma Ramotswe perspective is the primary one and that is very enjoyable to read. But, what I liked is that it wasn’t all just lighthearted starting-a-detective-agency struggles, there were quite a few serious/sad bits. For example:

And she thought of that moment when, not even supported by Note, who had made some excuse, she had laid the tiny body of their premature baby, so fragile, so light, into the earth and had looked up at the sky and wanted to say something to God, but couldn’t because her throat was blocked with sobs and no words, nothing, would come.

I’m not saying I like my stories to be full of doom and gloom…what I like are sudden bursts of emotion. I felt disappointed and sad on page 138. There are happier examples of this, where I actually cheered out loud, but those would be bigger spoilers, so you’ll have to find themselves out for yourself ;P

 One aspect of the book I enjoyed that I wasn’t expecting to was the writing style. I wasn’t expecting to be impressed, I wasn’t expecting any great writing, I was reading the book for more story than style but I was (and here I get to use my favourite phrase…) pleasantly surprised in that manner. The writing was creative yet simple and funny and very smooth, flowing. Any sample of dialogue demonstrates this, and as well, the chapter on ‘the boy’ is very well-written, for example. Here are two favourite passages of mine (each paragraph is a separate quote, from different pages, unrelated, etc.), demonstrating the thoughtfulness and well-written..ness of what I’ve been trying to explain:

And she thought, I am just a tiny person in Africa, but there is a place for me, and for everybody, to sit down on this earth and touch it and call it their own. She waited for another thought to come, but none did, and so she crept back into the hut and the warmth of the blankets on her sleeping mat.

 It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems o life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you a reason for going on. Pumpkin.

It is probably important to note that I am not the target demographic for either of these books. I honestly do not know why I ever picked them up but I am glad I did. They are probably intended for older middle-aged women, perhaps 40+. I am 20 years old. I am a modern Internet girl and I read voraciously, why would I spend my time on these books (is perhaps something somebody might think about me). Do not be fooled! If you are looking for a good, decent read check out these books. ‘Not just for middle-aged women’, bah, I’m having trouble getting my point across…

Now I have finished writing this and I realize some bits sound weird and that is because I went to see The Hunger Games at midnight last night and have not had proper sleep since then and I should have been writing essays instead but I should go to bed now. Summary: I enjoyed this book, it was refreshing and different and bittersweet and adorable and I am glad there are more books in the series to read.