Some times, what you go looking for in a book will decide how much you like the book. After reading that this novel's protagonist was 'An African Miss Marple' and that this bestseller has received two Booker Judge's Special Recommendations, you cannot blame me for going in with great expectations. And I was most certainly disappointed.
Kind-hearted, intelligent, friendly and good-natured Mma Ramostwe is a strong female character who is 'Botswana's only - and - finest female detective'. She sets up 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' and tackles cases with a method that is at best simplistic and at worst, unbelievably naive. There is no great 'twist in the tale' in any of the cases she handles. There is no use of great logic or cunning. It always comes down to Mma Ramostwe's 'instinct' and 'sense', which in my opinion, is something authors resort to when they haven't cooked up a good plot.
Realistic, it might be, in the sense that Mma Ramotswe handles simple cases of commoners. But the whole thrill of detectives is how they offer solutions to seemingly baffling scenarios. I could always predict how Mma Ramotswe's cases would be solved. There is the mandatory missing child, wayward daughter, philandering husband et al, but none of Mma Ramotswe's cases impress. Comparisons to Miss Marple are superfluous.
There are some obvious great aspects to the book though : McCall Smith's writing is simple, beautiful and very vivid. Botswana is where the heart is, for both the writer and his protagonist, which makes for some excellent reading and provides a good insight to the culture, customs of Africa. Then of course, there is the feel-good factor, the beautiful thoughts, the message of love, peace and equality. All of that is brilliant, but they don't contribute much to the premise of being The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.
I tried hard to like this book, but I guess this isn't my kind of novel and I'm not going to bother reading the rest of the series.
Random something I noted: I've seen a lot of non-Indians misspelling the popular surname 'Gandhi'. It doesn't really irk me too much because it is unintentional and is often misspelled while posting hurriedly on blogs or forums. But when this book, an international bestseller with so many awards, couldn't bother to check the surname and spells 'Mrs. Ghandi's war' in Page 194, it certainly irks me. They could have definitely checked this up, couldn't they?