No.1 Ladies Detective Agency. By Alexander McCall Smith
This is a weak book about a fat African detective
who also happens to be a lady. So what? There have been loads of
lady detectives before, not least Miss Marple who is miles better
at solving crimes.
The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency follows middle-aged
smug lady detective Precious Ramotswe through several boring anti-men
cases before she finally learning to forgive both herself and all
mankind and gets married. In the early chapters Mme. Ramotswe's
cases are interesting, like a little orderve before the main storyline
kicks in. However, this never quite happens and the book becomes
a dull catalogue of trivial mysteries that the fat detective solves
in exactly the same way each time. There is a deeper theme here,
wherein Ramotswe must get over the guilt and shame of an abusive
husband and the baby she lost as a teenager. Only by saving the
life of a young boy can she overcome her grief for the baby, her
insecurities about men and finally achieve enough on her own to
prove to herself (and her dead father) that she can marry again
and not feel like a slave. Sadly, this theme is rather obvious attempt
to give some dimension to the main character, and while it provides
her motivation it fails endear her to the reader.
The book is full of feminist overtones, which
might have been interesting in the 1960's but sound rather tired
today. I don't know maybe the sexual politics in Botswana are 50
years out of date but I don't want to be reminded how rubbish men
are every five pages.
Alexander McCall Smith is a good writer and his
book is full of gentle humour, however some jokes are very contrived
- witness the rubbish joke about constipation on page 154 - there
is no need for this joke and I am sure that McCall Smith thought
of it ages ago, thought it was funny and then deliberately contrived
a situation in the book where he could use it. Go into your local
Whsmiths and turn to page 154 and look at this disgustingly lazy
piece of writing for free. It is a shame because with this one ice-lolly
stick gag he undoes all the good work he has done previously in
the book. Take a look at his photo on the back of the novel - you
can see him laughing at what he thinks is his superior wit.
Unfortunately the protagonist is not likable
enough and the plot not exciting enough to keep the reader interested.
I found Mme. Ramotswe to be sexist, annoying and self satisfied.
I thought the plot was boring, predictable and far too placid. However,
this has proved to be a very popular book with about one million
other people so you might like to buy it, if only to be able to
read the rubbish joke on page 154 at your leisure.
Mark Out Of Seven: Three