Monday, September 17, 2012

No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Continues to Charm

Reviewed by Jeanne
I started reading the “Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency” books back some years ago, when there were only about four or five in the series.  I admit they took a little getting used to, what with all those exotic names of people and places, a different rhythm to the speech, and such a different setting:  the African country of Botswana.  I don’t know that I had ever given Botswana a great deal of notice before, but after making the acquaintance of Precious Ramotswe, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, Grace Makutsi and all the others who populate these wonderful tales I had to read further about the real country.
As with many series, some books are more successful than others.  I had become comfortable with the books and sort of took them for granted.  A new one was like a big bowl of mashed potatoes:  delicious, comforting, and no surprises. When I noticed The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection on the new book shelf, I started to read it but realized somehow I’d failed to read the previous book. So I also checked out The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, and settled in for a visit with friends. 
Saturday didn’t disappoint.  One of the most interesting aspects for me as a reader is how McCall-Smith has allowed his characters’ lives to change gradually, without too much drama or upheaval.  In this one, a long awaited event occurs for Mma Makutsi, while Mma Ramotswe tries to solve a case involving injured cattle, dreams of her beloved white van and tries to help one of the apprentice mechanics do the right thing.  It was a vintage story.
Satisfied, I picked up Limpopo and settled in for more of the same.  My first surprise was that a person who had been mentioned since the very first book, Mr. Clovis Anderson, noted author of The Principles of Private Detection, actually shows up in Botswana.  Needless to say, Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi are somewhat awed by this person, but fortunately he seems to be as humble and approachable as one could wish a great man to be.  Even better, there are two mysteries to be solved, and Mr. Anderson lends his aid without slighting the ladies’ abilities in the least.  One involves Mma Potokwane, the matron of the orphan farm, who has been dismissed from her post, while the other has some rather odd dealings with a contractor who is building Grace and Phuti’s dream house. 
As I’ve indicated, the series is a solid one, and one I’d begun to take for granted.  Limpopo is a top notch entry in the series, reminding me of everything I loved about the early books and reducing me to tears at the end.  If you haven’t picked up one of the books for awhile, by all means give this one a try.
Note:  I also highly recommend the video version of “The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.”  A lot of films disappoint but this series is a delight, not only visually but aurally as well.  Hearing the rhythms of speech as well as the music of the region is wonderful.  The colors are bright and as vivid as the characters.  Bonus features offer some comments from the author and the cast. The library has the DVD as well as a documentary on Botswana, with Alexander McCall Smith taking viewers to some of the real places depicted in the books.

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