Saturday, December 5, 2015

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Rating: WARTY!

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency! How can you not love a title like that? Well, I learned. I love several of the titles of this series, but when I came to read the first one (or rather, to listen to the audio book), my experience was singularly less than satisfactory. The absurdity of series is sweetly highlighted here since this novel is known as The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency #1). How bizarre is that?!

This fiction is supposedly Rooted on the real life ritual murder of Segametsi Mogomotsi a couple of years ago. This was a religious murder which was perpetrated purely for deluded business purposes. That story shows up about halfway through, but here it's a boy rather than a girl who is the victim. The novel is set in Gaborone, Botswana, and it takes too long to get down to business. It features a Motswana character named Precious Ramotswe. Curiously enough, 'Motswana' is the singular form of 'Tswana' which is a Bantu-speaking people of southern Africa.

I know nothing of Bantu, so I have to bow to the reader of this novel, a woman with the awesomely kick-ass name of Lisette Lecat, who is actually from southern Africa. Her voice is sweet and melodic as are all of those voices down there, it seems to me, but it drove me nuts when listening to her pronouncing 'Mma Ramotswe' with an exaggeratedly long Mmmmm, rolling into the 'r' of the name. I think she was overdoing it, frankly! This was exacerbated by the author's inane insistence upon using everyone's full name every time they're referred to, even when it's entirely unnecessary. There's no 'she' or 'he' here, only full names or titled names, such as Ummmmm-aaaaah Rrramotswe. Yes, it's that annoying. Maybe it won't bother other readers, but it did me. I’d recommend avoiding the audiobook unless you're really into that kind of thing!

As for the novel itself, I was really disappointed. I was hoping for some interesting African detective work, but it took forever to get going. There was a case right a the start, but then the story gets bogged down with some three chapters of info dump on not only the main character, but also her father. What the heck does that have to do with the story? Nothing! Yes, she got the money for her agency after her father died from miner's lung, and left her his house, but seriously?

The worst part about this novel was that the cases themselves were worthy of a children's book, not an adult story. One woman took in a strange guy who said he was her long lost father. This is a commendable tradition in Botswana, but she became suspicious of his free-loading, and brought the case to Ramotswe. She solves it by using a principal based on the Biblical story of Solomon, where he threatened to cut up a child in order to determine which of two competing women was the actual mother. Why, when he purportedly had a god on his side, he had to resort to such barbaric measures went unexplained.

Fortunately, Ummmmm-aaaaah Rrramotswe proves to be wiser than Solomon in her execution of the principal. Another case was self-evident - a guy disappeared and was quite obviously taken by a crocodile, although how he disappeared so completely silently when standing next to five other people who were waiting with him to be baptized is as much of a mystery as it is a joke. Why no body parts were found when the crocodile was cut open was an even bigger mystery. After that story, I could no longer take any of this seriously and decided to quit listening and move onto something more grown up.

It's nice to read about Africa, the cradle of humanity, and those parts of the novel were, for the most part, interesting, but nothing truly special. The novel is more like a series of short stories than a novel, with no overall arc and no over-arching plot, and what bit of a story that was there, wasn't exactly enthralling. Another factor that turned me off it was the hatred of men which pervaded the entire story (at least as far as I listened). Violence against women in domestic relationships is high in Botswana, so this might account for that approach, but I thought this could have been better handled. it was simply annoying to hear pretty much everyone insulting men pretty much every time they spoke. Maybe in Botswana, they deserve it, but that doesn't mean we have to hear it like a ritualistic mantra every time a man is mentioned! Overall, I can’t recommend this story.

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