Created by Alexander McCall Smith
One of the most unlikely but likable of private eyes, PRECIOUS RAMOTSWE, is a fat jolly young (she's only 22 in the first novel) woman who sets up The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Gaborone, Botswana, thus becoming that emerging south African nation's first female detective. Although there's something downright cozy about the whole thing, what with its quirky, engaging cast and its on-going emphasis on their assorted domestic, romantic and emotional crises, it never devolves into sap or cloying cuteness, and even a crank like me can find no other word for this series but "charming."
And millions of fans seem to agree with me. The series is a global phenomenom, each new title rocketing up the bestselling charts, and spawning anentire industry unto itself that includes a BBC radio series, a popular HBO television adaptation starring American singer Jill Scott, a cookbook and now evidently a series of books aimed at young readers.
Although the self-taught sleuth is certainly a private detective, but the books are a far cry from the mean streets of Chandler, Mosley, Hammett et al. Nor does she have much in common with her sisters in the gumshoe game. Unlike many female eyes, Precious isn't particularly well-educated, nor is she prone to soul-searching or jogging.
But that's not to say she's not smart -- in fact, she's blessed with a shrewd empathy and the sort of true grit and clear-eyed pragmatism that readers of more hard-boiled fare will soon recognize, even if the oft-covered themes of domestic violence, understanding, compassion, forgiveness, restitution and domestic infidelity, and her genteel, folksy, homespun common sense approach to problem solving (often over a steaming cup of red bush tea) set her apart from the herd.
In fact, the precedent for this series may be not some hard-boiled -- or even softly cozy -- mystery series, but James Herriot's All Thing Bright and Beautiful series of novels.
Clever, patient and displaying tremendous gumption, Precious is a young "traditionally built" women who serves as the novels' main character and narrator, but the episodic tone of the novels revolve as much around the adventures and foibles of different colourful characters as they do about the mysteries. Besides Mma Ramotswe, there's her bookish, tightly wound secretary, Mma Grace Makutsi, and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, the lovestruck mechanic and proprietor of the local Speedy Motors, Mma Ramotswe's would-be suitor and eventual husband, who keeps her old clunker form falling apart.
Alexander McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe, taught law at the University of Botswana and is now Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh. He has written more than fifty books, including several works of non-fiction, as well as the popular Sunday Philosophy Club mysteries, but he's best known for the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. In 2004 he was awarded British Book Awards Author of the Year and Booksellers Association Author of the Year. He lives in Scotland, where in his spare time he plays a really mean bassoon.
-- The Telegraph
-- Anthony Daniels, Sunday Telegraph
-- The New York Times Book Review
-- Otto Penzler on The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Billed as "A Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Book for Young Readers," this beautifully illustrated (by Iian McIntosh) book seems to be the first in a new series.
Includes No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Tears of the Giraffe, and Morality for Beautiful Girls. Unlike most slapped-together collections of novels, this is a class act, with packaging that's actually tied in with the cover artwork of the books themselves.
ALSO OF INTEREST
Well, isn't this Precious? Fans of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency can skip the bottle of hooch in the desk drawer and settle in with a nice cup of red bush tea instead. With photographs by Mats Ogren and a foreword by Precious' creator, Alexander McCall Smith, this amply illustrated culinary tour offers an intriguing glimpse into Botswana's traditions and culture, with numerous detours for recipes for stews, fat cakes (doughnuts) jams and other trtaditional delicacies, with the proceeds from the book's sales being shared among several African charities.
Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.
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