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Friday, March 19, 2010

Review: The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is the inverse of all the traditional English mystery novels. Instead of being set in England or America, it's set in Botswana, in Southern Africa. Instead of having skinny spinsters or fat Frenchmen detectives, we have a fat African woman, Precious Ramotswe, who started a Detective Agency after her father died and left her a herd of cattle.

The mysteries start off being very whimsical, and we get a good feel for Ramotswe's character: her mysteries aren't resolved so much as with brilliant deductions, but rather with a direct approach and smart questioning of subjects. It's quite obvious that this is not a set of mysteries intended to challenge your deductive skills, but a series of character and situation sketches.

We do learn quite a bit about Ramotswe's background before the novel proceeds onto more serious topics. The plot unrolls like a TV series: each episode has a main mystery, while another sub-mystery unfolds in the background, as well as a very unsubtle romance. By the end of the novel, everything's been unraveled, with the ending tied up very neatly, but we don't get the feeling that Ramotswe's done any introspection whatsoever --- none of the feeling of change or bleakness of characters found in Sue Grafton or Raymond Chandler is in evidence here.

At $2.00 for the Kindle edition of the book it was quite a bargain, but I don't think I'd pay full price for this. It will, however, make a fine airplane novel.

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