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Book 31 of 80

May 27, 2010

I think mediocre-mystery-light is a pretty good description for McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. The novel was really a series of little vignettes with Precious Ramotswe solving minor mystery after minor mystery (bad doctors, con men, lost dogs, cheating husbands) — she keeps coming back to the case of a missing boy, but the whole episode gets maybe 15 pages of playing-time.

I do love the character of Ramotswe. Her voice is very rich and, I thought, really quite funny. I’d want to be her friend. She is wise, but humorous — the whole notion of her starting up a No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency from the sale of her father’s cattle, without any experience or training other than a manual (think How To Be a Private Detective for Dummies) and a vast knowledge of Miss Marple’s cases, is a good premise for this easy, light, breezy, simple (did I conjure up enough adjectives yet?) book.

I even laughed out loud once. A genuine “that was funny” laugh.

But here is what I didn’t like:

First of all, I struggled with the fact that McCall Smith is a white Scottish dude writing about an African woman. Something about it felt inauthentic and, well, just wrong. The prose is so sparse that at times I felt like it was bordering on condescending. Just when it would start to feel charming, I’d be like, “Wait. This is an old white guy.” (Case in point: I googled a picture of him. He is smirking. He is wearing a bow-tie. Enough said.)

My second complaint is that the actual mysteries aren’t compelling. I haven’t been shy about my love for Sue Grafton’s Alphabet Mysteries. I won’t apologize for loving them so much because I think that her actual mysteries are really fun — I hardly figure it out beforehand, and when the big reveal happens, I’m rarely disappointed. Maybe the sequels for this series are better, but none of the “mysteries” kept me rapt with interest. (And the little bit about the doctor who was good on some days and bad on others? I’d pay someone money if they didn’t say to themselves, “Duh. I know why.” THAT bit has been played out in cartoons, movies, books, and cave drawings since man started telling stories. You can be light, fun, and easy without being horrifyingly predictable too.)

So, that was my experience with The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. Not horrible. Not fantastic. A decent way to spend a few hours. By comparison, I actually think Wife of the Gods has a better mystery and a more engaging story-line. So, if I want a light mystery rich with atmosphere, I’d head back to Ghana.

PS. The below picture is documentation of me trying to keep up on my reading and my exercise. A word of caution: If you suffer from motion-sickness, this is not for you. I can read in a car without incident, but after 40 minutes of reading on the elliptical, I was on the verge of throwing up in front of everyone at 24-hour Fitness.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. May 28, 2010 8:32 am

    I think the series gets better in the sequels. (I started with Book number 2 or 3.) And I’ve met McCall-Smith; he’s a nice guy.

    Also, if you wanna boycott neocolonialist perspectives of countries by outsiders, well, that’s going to make your reading list for Africa that much harder… (I mean, come on, you read “Dracula” for Romania? 🙂 )

    • May 28, 2010 8:53 am

      Yeah, Dracula was a HUGE stretch — I was hoping no one would call me on that!! 🙂

      And I can’t actually boycott perspectives by outsiders or I’d have to say good-bye to a lot of the books on my reading list. I mean — Cry, the Beloved Country falls into the same category. So, maybe I’m just hypocritical. I’m okay with that.

      Maybe I’ll check out other books in the McCall-Smith series and see if they get better. I can totally see himself enjoying the books more if he draws me in with a better mystery. (So cool that you’ve met him!! Was he wearing a bow-tie??)

  2. May 28, 2010 1:09 pm

    Damn, I can’t remember if he was. My sis was the one who introduced me to his books; she liked them because Mma Ramotswe is a little like our own semi-traditional, semi-modern mother.

    I wanted to tell you that I’m doing my own round-the-world trip, though I doubt I’m as quick at reading as you are:

    Have only just started, and I’m in a very different part of the world, so there’s no danger of overlapping for a while yet.

    • May 28, 2010 2:05 pm

      Cool! 🙂 I saw your blog a few days ago (I think some traffic meandered this way from a link — thank you for that!!) and I’m SO excited you’re doing this challenge too. I’m loving it.

      I’m trying to finish this in a year, so I have a very scheduled pace going. I think next year I’m going to do something more leisurely. This is like going from running the mile in high school to turning 30, hopping off the couch, and trying to run a marathon. But so far I’m doing okay! 🙂

      (PS. The Ramotswe character is pretty awesome. I 100% agree!!)

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