“The quality of the idea, the skill of the plot, the depth of the characterization, the distinctive style of the author – that’s the best I can do by way of defining a good book. When you find one, you recognize it.” Gladys Hunt, Honey for A Child’s Heart
One of the primary reasons I read fiction and go to the movies is so that I can travel. Vicariously of course. I used to actually go to foreign places: Brasil, Honduras, Israel, to name a few. Now I am bound to American soil with many responsibilities so I “go places” through books and film. Recently, one of my favorite literary trips has been to Botswana, Africa.
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a series set in this southern African country and first published in 2007. The first book in the series, entitled The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency starts a wonderful journey into the fascinating world of memorable and humorous characters.
The series is fairly slow-paced, avoids gruesome descriptions of murders, and does not thrill with conspiracies and thwarting “take-over-the-world” type villains. However, it is appealing because it takes the reader deep into the world of cultural Botswana.
Bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith, born in Zimbabwe and a law professor in Scotland, worked for a time in the setting where he helped set up a law school at the University of Botswana.
Though not necessarily a series only for women, the main character, Precious Ramotswe, is a middle-aged woman who opens a detective agency because “a woman sees more than a man sees”. In her own words, Mma Ramotswe claims: “It is my duty to help…. my brothers and sisters…solve the mysteries in their lives. That is what I am called to do.” (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, p. 4)
One of the cultural treasures I received from these stories is how Mma Ramotswe and her rich cast of supporting characters show the universal need for kindness and courtesy in human relationships. My teenage daughters and I greet each other in the morning now with the customary Batswanan words: “Have you slept well, Mma?” a greeting that is used whatever time of day a stranger, acquaintance or friend is encountered.
To my delight book #13 was published in April 2012, The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection. It was just as wonderful as the previous twelve. Now I am on the library waiting list for the most recent titles in the series The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (2013) and The Handsome Man’s De Luxe Cafe (2014).
A film adaptation, directed by Anthony Minghella, and produced by the Weinstein Company, premiered on HBO in March 2009. I am frustrated that nothing more has been produced, since this first effort was excellent!
A quick disclaimer: It is undeniable that we have different tastes in fiction. That means some of my readers will not like what I like. The books recommended today address some weightier social ills and unlovely personal life choices, but all within a context of characters who, I believe, leave us with a true residue of goodness and inspiration.