Book Review: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Okay, I finished the book MONTHS ago but just haven’t gotten around to writing and posting my review until now. It’s a good job I made notes straight after I’d finished! The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is about a woman, Mme Ramotswe, who opens a detective agency in Botswana, and follows both her interactions with other characters and the cases brought to her and how she solves them. This book was part of my Continent Book challenge (the Africa months). This review is spoiler free (I think, there might be a couple tiny ones but nothing that will spoil anything about the book for you in any way).

The book is structured so that in every chapter (near enough) there is another case for Mme Ramotswe to solve. There is also one overarching case that runs throughout the book (revolving around a missing child and a witch doctor – I didn’t find any of it too grim or overly descriptive though). Alongside Mme Ramotswe is a pretty large cast of supporting characters, from the people she is helping to friends who help her. The characters seemed well rounded and interesting – they all seemed 3d to me, with well-thought out reasons behind every decision. I don’t know much about African culture, but I imagine the way these characters talk and interact with each other would be pretty realistic.

The main chapters, as I’ve said before, are about Mme Ramotswe and the cases she is hired to solve. However, interwoven into the main story is chapters about Mme Ramotswe’s background, her disastrous marriage, and her now deceased father who’s money she used to set up her detective agency. Although these chapters do slow the story itself down slightly, they make Mme Ramotswe more solid and I don’t think I would have understood and rooted for her quite so much had those insights into her past not been there.

In all, the book was well written and entertaining. I liked the characters and was satisfied with the ending (although it didn’t leave me with any lasting feelings either way). Maybe I just went into it with my expectations set too high but it just wasn’t as good as I’d hoped. I can’t put my finger on anything WRONG with it, it just didn’t touch me, strike me, make me want to run back to the library and find all the sequels NOW. I mean, maybe if I saw the sequels in the library one day and was in a bit of a reading slump then I’d pick it up, but I wouldn’t go actively looking for it, nor am I particularly desperate to read it again.

I’m giving The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency 3 out of 5 – it was a pretty fun, pretty light read that was well written, but I’m not chomping at the bit to read more.

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