Thursday, October 27, 2005


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

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.