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The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency.
John Lewell

"The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency" is not only the best novel I have discovered that features a female detective, it is so far and away the best that it needs to be discussed in a different context altogether. Its anecdotal style and humorous insights into human frailties are reminiscent of famous literary figures such as the English author W. Somerset Maugham.

Alexander McCall Smith has written around forty children's books and has won great praise for his collection of African stories "Children of Wax." It is greatly to be hoped that he will continue to produce more fiction for adults. Speaking for myself: I should never tire of reading about Precious Ramotswe and her flourishing agency in the world's most unlikely location - on the fringe of the Kalahari Desert.
Why is this novel so good? Words and phrases like magical, charming, lightness of touch, emotional nuance, touching the earth, tolerance of foibles - all spring to mind, but it is almost impossible to pin down such an inspired invention. Precious Ramotswe describes herself as a good, fat African lady, but she has suffered from a disasterous marriage to a no-good jazz musician - and now her father, proud owner of many head of cattle, has died. Precious uses money from the sale of the herd to set herself up as a private detective, very much as if it were the most obvious course of action.
Mma Ramotswe's investigations have twists that are worthy of Agatha Christie (whose spirit, incidentally, is twice invoked by Precious to make various skeptics acknowledge her right to be a detective.) However, "The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency" goes far beyond entertaining the reader with tales of investigation. It seems to capture the spirit of Africa in many different moods, hinting occasionally at the "heart of darkness," allowing us to glimpse the vast loneliness of the Kalahari, but mostly concentrating on the people of small-town Africa - a microcosm of humanity.
If Alexander McCall Smith were a Japanese writer he would have been nominated for a literary prize for "The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency." His wit rivals that of the early Natsume Soseki, and his artistic touch has the clarity and simplicity of Ozaki Kazuo. I cannot imagine finding a better novel for this collection of reviews, but can only hope that we have not seen the last of Precious Ramotswe. -
© John Lewell

Tears of the Giraffe
Alexander McCall Smith

Writing about Alexander McCall Smith's first Precious Ramotswe novel "The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency," this reviewer compared the author with W. Somerset Maugham and said the novel was the best of all those he had read featuring a female detective. Such enthusiastic praise now needs to be revised.

Where "The No.1..." was brilliant, "Tears of the Giraffe," the second in the series, is sublime. As a stylist, the author is certainly the equal of Maugham, but as a storyteller and artist he invites comparison with even greater literary figures, such as Jun'ichiro Tanizaki (of "Diary of a Mad Old Man," etc.)

"Tears of the Giraffe" finds the plump, good-natured detective Precious Ramotswe preparing for her marriage to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, owner of the local garage. Various threads of the narrative emanate from this impending event, all of which contribute hugely to the novel's overall quality. However, the main story holding it all together concerns an American woman who becomes Mma Ramotswe's client. She wants to find out exactly what happened to her son Michael who went missing ten years previously from an experimental farm, never to be seen again.

A novel that works on every level, "Tears of the Giraffe" addresses some of the most vexing moral questions, such as "does the end ever justify the means?" It even answers such questions, not in any pedantic manner, but with full dramatization. At the same time it is a novel that is totally involving: it makes you laugh and cry - and applaud the author for his wit and ingenuity.

Showing the warmth and humanity of Africa rather than its darker side, "Tears of the Giraffe" is an eloquent plea to the developed West to see Africans as individuals - not as some vast, collective probem. The author himself answers this call by bringing all his characters to life in the most delightful and entertaining way. By the end of the novel the reader feels enriched by the experience of meeting them, tempered only by the realization that it will be many months before the next installment in the series.

Many Booker Prize winners of recent years pale in comparison to "Tears of the Giraffe." It is definitely the new No.1. -

© John Lewell
Technology Relations Ltd

The Kalahari Typing School For Men -Review

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies (new in 2004)
the latest novel from Mccall Smith

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