10-pages-in book review: The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

by DaniGirl on October 27, 2005 · 10 comments

in 10-pages-in

I love character books. A book doesn’t have to have a strong narrative structure or a lot to say, but I do love a book with endearing characters.

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency is a charming, unique book full of quirky characters. I first heard about it from a classmate in my French class a few months ago. Her linguistic skills are a little bit more advanced than mine, but I did manage to understand and retain the fact that this book is part of a series written by a Scotsman who grew up in South Africa about a woman who inherits a considerable sum from her father and uses it to open a private detective agency – the very first one operated by a woman in all of Botswana, maybe all of Africa. Seemed a little incongruous at the time, but then my translation skills are questionable at best.

When I picked this book up, I was expecting something along the lines of Stephanie Plum in the books by Janet Evanowich. I like her books because they’re quirky and funny and fast-paced. The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is definitely quirky, but it is almost plodding in an endearing sort of way. Mma Ramotswe is insightful where Stephanie is dippy and polite where Stephanie is hopelessly crude. She’s also likely the size of three Stephanies put together. They’d probably like each other a lot, but I can’t imagine a universe where they’d intersect.

Having said all those nice things, I must now admit that I’m stalled about a third of the way into this book. I really like it, I would recommend it to you in an instant, but I’m not sure if I’m going to finish reading it. My number came up for The Kite Runner in the public library queue (I started at 585th in line back in the summer) and I dropped this to read it. Looking back, I’m not so sure I should have bothered, but that’s a blog review for another day. Even though I genuinely like The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, I’m having a hard time convincing myself to pick it back up again.

A question for the commenting crowd: when you read, do you choose things that are familiar and to which you can relate, or do you like to read about people who are completely different from you, whose life experiences are completely dissimilar to yours? I was initially doubtful about both The Kite Runner and The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency largely because they are set in a world completely different from mine. What do I know of Botswana or Afghanistan? And yet, I found the setting and the striking differences from my experience to be one of the most compelling things about these books.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 SilverCreek Mom October 27, 2005 at 1:58 pm

I do not want to read anything that is anywhere near realted to me being a stay at home mom with a very slow buiness selling clothes. Sounds like a best seller doesn’t it…LOL!
I want to escape! I love a good plot that gets me soo involed I forget to make dinner. I haven’t read on of those in awhile. Although I’m not great with personal struggle and triumph either.(a la Oprah) I find it boring… and unless the author can spin it really well I don’t bloody care.
So that’s what I like to read.

2 James October 27, 2005 at 2:47 pm

Both. When reading nonfiction I veer as far from my own experiences as possible. Killing Pablo, for instance, was one that I found endlessly fascinating (not being Columbian cop, a DEA agent or Delta Force commando) because it was so far out of the realm of anything I had experienced or knew about.
With fiction, I stray far but also will read things with which I can more easily relate. If I enjoy the company of the characters I’ll read almost anything.
By the way, I really like the 10-pages-in concept. I stumbled on your blog yesterday and was taken by the concept, and this morning, a new 10-pages-in review appears. And for a book I keep seeing at stores and wondering if I should check out. I think I will. At least the first 10 pages anyway.

3 yvonne October 27, 2005 at 2:57 pm

I have to get back on your book lending library list. I used to benefit greatly from your mom’s taste in reading but it has been a few years. Drop a bag of books off to the needy, would you? 🙂

4 twinmomplusone October 27, 2005 at 9:13 pm

Never really thought about it but I guess I tend to pick up books set in places I like or would like to go to. Recently, due to a group of influential girlfriends ;), I’ve been straying out of my usual zone and sometimes I’ve had unexpectant pleasant surprises and other times I just couldn’t get into it at all.

5 BeachMama October 27, 2005 at 10:50 pm

I too have been venturing out of the realm due to some influences that are beyond my control 😉 But, I do love the Evanovich books, I also love some of the newer stuff like the “Shopoholic Series” and “Something Borrowed” “Something Blue”. I was recently introduced to Candace Bushnell and loved her writing. I am wondering about the Kite Runner as I am on “the list” too. I don’t want to stay excited if it isn’t really worth it.
Anna

6 nancy October 28, 2005 at 12:25 am

I like fiction. Easy to read. Needs to keep moving. I like frivelous chick-lit A LOT. But I like to stray a little as well. I have been pleasantly surprised at books like The Red Tent and Kite Runner, in settings I would never have considered to read had it not been for some strong recommendations. I like Maeve Binchy, detest Margaret Atwood.
I had seen the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and considered it a few times but have yet to read it. Perhaps I should try the Evanovich series. My neighbour has them all and has offered.
I don’t like to read the same author/series in a row, I like to change it up in between.
I also like People magazine, Archie comics and MAD. So there.

7 Running2Ks October 28, 2005 at 1:25 am

I love Stephanie Plum, and I haven’t read this yet. I do love mysteries and quirky heroines.

8 Kristina October 28, 2005 at 5:35 am

Hello all!
I’ve read ‘The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency’ and I’d recommend picking it up again and reading to the end, Dani. It’s an odd book in the sense that it is fairly slow-moving and – if left – is easy to look at and think “Well…should I continue?” I liked it though. It’s got an interesting voice, this book, and I’m glad I read through to the end. There’s one cent, here’s the other: I like reading all kinds of books, those that are close to home and those that are outside the realm of my knowledge/experience. I’ve not yet read the Stephanie Plum books, I’ve only dipped my little toe into the Shopaholic series, and Maeve Binchy is a fun read, but I also like Margaret Atwood. And I love Robertson Davies. I run the gamut, I guess. Ciaoders!

9 SheilaC February 1, 2006 at 8:47 pm

I do hope you persevered with the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency! I loved it, and am now hooked on the series, can’t wait for the next one to appear. I think it’s up to 6? My husband likes them very much as well, and we don’t always have the same tastes.
I have also enjoyed the Stephanie Plum series, but consider that the earlier ones are better, and that by 8, 9 and 10 and the Christmas one, they are getting pretty weak, repetitive and predictable. I kept laughing with surprise in the early ones, and was keen to see how the love interests would play out, but now I’m bored with them.
Alexander McCall Smith has another series set in Edinburgh, the Sunday Philosophy Club, and I’ve just read the first one and liked it. A lot of slow-paced pondering about ethical and moral dilemmas, and interesting atmosphere, so similar to the Botswana ones in that way. There’s more literary merit to his books, so I’m sure they will be good ones to read again in future years, while I think the Evanovich series will be less favourite.
Another series I love is by Lindsey Davis, the Falco mysteries set in Ancient Rome, beginning with “The Silver Pigs”. The series is up to at least 12 now, and all are superb. Good mysteries, awesome setting and historical and cultural details, and appealing characters with compelling relationships that continue through the series.
Happy reading!

10 BubandPie June 12, 2006 at 4:17 pm

What I love about the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series is how familiar and at home I feel in McCall Smith’s Botswana, even though it is so far removed from my own experience. There is so much that is recognizable there, especially the way “Mama Botswana” always looks back nostalgically to the old Botswana ways. This series has been criticized for offering an idealized view of Africa, but I think there is a power in that, to make readers feel the love that these people have for their country, their continent.

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