Friday, November 13, 2009

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Rating: 5/10

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?


Paperback Reader said...

I tried to read this a few years ago but wasn't very impressed and gave up. It just wasn't for me. Glad to find someone who felt similarly.

That is a shocking editorial error - bad enough that the author misspelled Gandhi but for it not to be picked up during publication is a gross oversight.

Kals said...

I know! It is an appalling error and shows a lack of concern/accuracy that is sort of scary.

Anonymous said...

Bit of a harsh review Kals...I love it! Lol, really glad you posted this because tons of people have recommended the book to me since I like Miss Marple, but I never got a good feeling about it the many times I picked it up at the bookstore. Really glad to hear your take on it and I am no longer going to feel guilty about leaving it at the store.

Tea said...

O, I love Precious. I'm still reading the series. Precious' husband or husband to be is so sweet and gentle. I love the secretary too. She made 98%. I love each one in a special series. It is a special series.

Kals said...

Meg - It was the 'Miss Marple' reference that made me get the book, but it is definitely overrated if you ask me.

Tea - Oh, I love Precious and J.L.B.Matekoni too =) It's just that the plot isn't as tight as I wanted it to be.

vvb32 reads said...

You know, I read this awhile back and just remember that I enjoyed it - but just the first one of the series. I liked the setting and laid back personality of Mma Ramotswe. The second book I heard the audio version which was entertaining because you can get an idea of how the native words are spoken.

Kals said...

Yep, it is laid back, but I went in with too many expectations. Blame the 'Miss Marple' references! :p

Veens said...

Well.. well! you know what your thrashing posts are so much fun to read!

But that typo was OTT! i mean it is SILLY but seriously bad.. I mean they should have seen it while reviewing the book :(

thank u, another book i would give a pass to.

Kals said...

LOL...thanks =)

I know! I felt really angry about the typo..I mean, do our Indian bestseller books misspell Kennedy, Blair or Obama? :|

Anonymous said...

Well...rats! I was really hoping this was going to be a special read for me. I guess if I go in with lower expectations I will simply enjoy it for what it is. But she's no Miss Marple? Well, I should think not! There's only one Miss Marple!!

And as a sidenote, that kind of spelling error is just totally unacceptable. But, have you noticed, how many there really are these days? What is that about? Sounds very careless to me!!

Kals said...

The very phrase 'Miss Marple-like' raises expectations a zillion times higher than normal, in my case! She's just too amazing to replicate or surpass :)

I know...It infuriates me that such a bestselling novel cannot get the spelling of a former Prime Minister of a country right! It's a shame.


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