43) Alexander McCall Smith — The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
The first of a series about Precious Ramotswe, the Botswanan woman who sets up a detective agency. I’d read one of the later books first, which felt more like a mystery genre novel, and by comparison this one strikes me as aiming more at the literary genre, with more overt meditations on life in southern Africa. While it’s written by a white man, it’s written by a white Zimbabwean who’s worked in Botswana, who is writing what he knows. What he’s written is a loving portrait of Botswana, both the good side and the bad, framed through a woman who respects many of the old ways but thinks change can bring good.
The structure is a series of small cases interspersed with chapters looking at how Mma Ramotswe came to set up the detective agency with an inheritance from her father, and how her father came to have the money to leave to her. Some of the individual cases have serious consequences, but it’s largely a gentle and subtly funny novel. It feels almost like a series of short stories within a frame story, although some of the story threads run through the length of the book. As such, it makes for easy reading, even though there’s a lot of thoughtful social commentary worked into the narrative. I’m looking forward to reading the next in the series.