The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

“It is sometimes easier to be happy if you don’t know everything.”

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Reading this book changed me, and changed my life forever.

It’s become a favourite in a way not many other books could; I love the main character, Precious Ramotswe. She seems so real to me that I’d have to remind myself (were I so inclined, which I’m generally not) that she is a fictional character. I love spending time with her, and sometimes I actually miss her like an old friend.

Alexander McCall Smith, the author of this hugely popular book and its follow-on series, is a genius. I have more respect for him than for almost any other living writer.

Being the first novel in a series (which I hope will never end in my lifetime), we are given a pleasantly meandering introductory tour of Precious’ life leading up to her starting her business. It hasn’t been an easy life, but what makes it beautiful and sweet is her, and her heart, and her perspective. And the author’s sense of humour!

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Cattle are the traditional source of prosperity in her beloved country, Botswana. And it is just this inheritance from her honoured and much-missed Daddy that allows Precious to establish herself as a business woman. That, and her ethics. She cares about people.

“There was so much suffering in Africa that it was tempting just to shrug your shoulders and walk away. But you can’t do that, she thought. You just can’t.”

She sees things in a way that is so clear to her, and makes so much sense, that to “help people with the problems of their lives” is a perfect career for this “traditionally built woman.” I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve laughed while reading about her and her many and varied exploits.

“The problem, of course, was that people did not seem to understand the difference between right and wrong. They needed to be reminded about this, because if you left it to them to work out for themselves, they would never bother. They would just find out what was best for them, and then they would call that the right thing. That’s how most people thought.”

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Gabarone, Botswana’s capital city

When the lawyer who was administering her late Daddy’s estate came to speak with her about her inheritance, she stated her intention to buy both a house and a business. He was less than enthusiastic when she announced her plan to “start from scratch” with a detective agency. He made the mistake of asking- out loud- could women even do that?

“Women are the ones who knows what’s going on,’ she said quietly . ‘They are the ones with eyes. Have you not heard of Agatha Christie?”

Our large-and-in-charge leading lady doesn’t wait for grass to grow under her feet. She gets right on with it and is soon open for business. And sure enough, clients come walking through her door with mysteries to solve.

Some are intriguing in terms of human interest (like the case of the teenage girl with a suspected, but unapproved boyfriend, and the philandering husband who she outsmarts at the Go-Go Handsome Man’s Bar…)

Others are a little more complex (think: stolen car, and con man.) One is truly terrifying; a young boy has gone missing, and a witch doctor is the prime suspect. Mma. Ramotswe (Precious) has the courage, instinct, and wits to handle them all.

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She’s clever, and somehow her reflections on life are always refreshing even though they seem so sensible and true that they should be obvious. In spite of her important and challenging work, Precious never lets her work stresses ruin her healthy appetite.

Oh, no. She loves to eat beef, and cake, and pumpkin.

“It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you a reason for going on. Pumpkin.”

Haha! I wonder how she cooks her pumpkin to make it so appetizing…? She never mentions pumpkin pie, but seems to enjoy it as a savoury vegetable, which is a bit of a mystery to me… anybody else like to eat pumpkin this way? I’d love to see a good recipe…!

Have you read any of Alexander McCall Smith’s delightful novels? 

Do you, too, know and love Precious Ramotswe?

What’s your favourite story from the books about her?

Thank you for reading with me!

Leah 🙂

p.s. I hope you enjoy this post; if you like it, please feel free to subscribe to my book blog!

 

 

Footsteps in the Dark

“It was growing late, and though one might stand on the brink of a deep chasm of disaster, one was still obliged to dress for dinner.”

~ Georgette Heyer

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Delicious. This really hit the spot.

Interwar England is one of my favourite settings to read in, and Georgette Heyer is one of my favourite reasons for this! Published in 1932, Footsteps in the Dark is the first of the many mystery novels written by this prolific author. I enjoyed it so much that I went straight on to her next mystery, and don’t plan to stop until I’ve read them all.

(Or until I run out of access on my library app for the month. That happened fast.)

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Georgette Heyer

I could compare it to Agatha Christie’s detective stories; only somehow a little lighter in tone, and a little more emphasis on the action as it happens than on the brilliant mind solving the crime. I like how Georgette Heyer always seems to write one character who is terribly clever in that very dry English way; it lightens the mood of the book and really takes the edge off the tension created by creepy mysteries unfolding among such prosaic and unsuspecting snobs.

The old-fashioned thriller woven through with social comedy is a perfect combination, like eating sour candy.

When the story begins, Celia Malcolm and her siblings (Peter and Margaret Fortescue) have just inherited a charming old country house.  Against the advice of Celia’s husband Charles, they decide to keep it as a summer residence. ‘The Priory’ has barely been maintained since the tenants were haunted away a few years ago by the resident ghost (a ‘monk’.) There’s no telephone or even any electricity installed, but they (with their elderly aunt, Mrs. Bosanquet) cheerfully drive up the long lane through the forebodingly dark woods to the house for a season of rustic, if genteel rest and relaxation…

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Charles and Peter’s idea of a good vacation involves a bit of fishing, so they take full advantage of the estate’s trout stream, and on their way home one day they happen to spy a couple of men who are acting and talking rather suspiciously. One of them is the mysterious stranger who helped Margaret out when she had car trouble the day before, and the other is the shifty character they’d recently spotted eavesdropping on their conversation with the innkeeper in the local pub. Hmm.

There aren’t many neighbours of sufficient social standing to get together with for dinners and card parties, but the Fortescues do enjoy some such visits with the local gentry; enter Colonel Ackerly (a retired military officer who plays a mean game of lawn tennis), and the eccentric Mr. Titmarsh (a devoted and enthusiastic collector of rare moths), as well as Dr. and Mrs. Roote (the tipsy village doctor and his long-suffering wife)…

There are a few other locals who show up in this old-school cast, but the last one I’ll mention is Monsieur Duval. He’s an appallingly rude, drug addicted artist who lives in a secluded cottage near The Priory. His egotism is matched only by everyone else’s utter distaste for his company (and his art.)

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If you’re in the mood for secret moving panels, winding passages, skeletons, and terrifying noises in the night, barely laced with a little touch of romance, this vintage thriller might be the book for you.

While this novel is not to be taken at all seriously, it’s brilliant as lightly thrilling escape literature! Of course, reading novels set long ago and far away is one thing, but I find that when I read ones that were actually written in other periods I have to overlook some very out-dated attitudes in order to enjoy the story for what it is. This is fine with me; I’m not a fan of revisionist history and the flavour is more authentic than anything a modern author could dream up.

Do you prefer to read stories set in modern times, or take in a little time travel on your way through a book?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

 

 

 

The Department Of Sensitive Crimes

“Sometimes we stumble over the truth. We think we find it, but it finds us.”

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Have you heard of ‘Scandi-noir“? (a.k.a. “Nordic-noir”)

I had, but only vaguely. In case you’re as innocent of this relatively new, darkly disturbing crime fiction as I was until recently, it’s meant to be a bit of a cultural expose uncovering creepy elements of society purportedly lurking beneath the calm surface of life in northern European countries.

You may recall a recent post I wrote about  Lagom (the Swedish concept of balance and harmony)… Well, in the words of Alan Bradley, here’s what we’re now encountering:

“With astounding heart and mind, Alexander McCall Smith launches a bold and original new series. With The Department of Sensitive Crimes, he invents a new and compassionate genre: Scandi Blanc…”

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Photo by John Flygare on Unsplash

Ulf Varg is a detective who lives and works in Malmo, Sweden. From an inconspicuous office, he leads a small team in solving crimes which are beyond the scope (or beneath the notice) of the regular police force, while stoically enduring the occasional joke about his names, which both translate as ‘wolf.’

In classic Alexander McCall Smith style, we are invited into the personal as well as the professional life of our protagonist…

We learn the sad history of his failed marriage and meet his therapist; “Dr. Svensson had once counselled him to think of the things you’re doing rather than the things you did. It was useful advice- he knew that- even if the therapist liked to claim he was not dispensing advice, but helping him to work out what was the best thing to do. That was the trouble with Dr. Svensson, thought Ulf: he often denied that he was there- an odd thing to do, especially when you charged so much for being present.”

We also get to know Ulf’s deaf labradoodle (Martin) and Mrs. Hogfors, the retired neighbour who cares for him while while Ulf’s at work… “Martin loved Mrs. Hogfors, and she adored him in return, allowing him to sleep on her sofa, feeding him a constant diet of fattening treats, and refusing to countenance any talk of faults on his part.”

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Photo by Sander Weeteling on Unsplash

Ulf’s co-workers are endearingly human and amusingly Swedish. But don’t expect to find nothing more than a lot of crime detection and platonic social interactions. Ulf is in love, and it’s heart-rending to delve a bit into the two sides of that ill-fated relationship…

I highly recommend this mentally and emotionally provocative novel to anyone who enjoys life. It’s not heavy, but with the light touch he’s famous for, this brilliant author hits another home run.

Have you read other books/ series by Alexander McCall Smith?

What do you think of this new series?

Thank you for reading with me!

Leah  🙂

 

 

 

 

The Colours of All the Cattle

“Life happens, she thought; whatever we do, life just happens.”
― Alexander McCall Smith, The Colours of all the Cattle

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And… he’s done it again! One of my favourite living authors, Alexander McCall Smith has conjured up yet another Precious Ramotswe story. I’m delighted every time a new novel in this series comes out, and I’ve never been even remotely close to disappointment after reading one. How does he do it? I wonder… How does a man in Scotland write so convincingly about a woman in Botswana!? Am I the only one who has to tell myself (time and again) that if I were to take a trip to Gabarone, I would be faced with the cruel reality that no such business exists as the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency?

This morning I was reading in Carol Shields’ Startle and Illuminate, a book on writing. I came across this comment, which is absolutely true of this series:

“… radical regionalism often produces a universal response.”

I’ve always wanted to travel to Africa, ever since I first saw the sunrise in Disney’s Lion King as an idealistic 16 year-old. Still, I am not the only one for whom McCall Smith has put Botswana on the map. Apart from that, it’s delicious to feel so immersed in a far-off place; the culture is palpable in these lovely books.

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Gabarone, beloved (if fictional) home of beloved (if fictional) Mma Ramotswe

Now consider another piece of Carol Shields’ advice, this one on appropriation of voice; we must be sure to convey others’ experiences with authenticity and respect.

This, I am convinced, is the key to Alexander McCall Smith’s brilliantly successful star character, Precious Ramotswe.

Charming as these novels are, the reason I keep coming back for more is not just for the  light humour, the little mysteries, or the trip to exotic Africa; but because what’s written in them matters. It simply does. The kind of ethics that just make good sense, which are woven like a golden thread throughout, catching the light occasionally, but never detracting attention from the people and their stories. That’s the magnet for me.

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If Precious were a tree, she would be this one.

“But please be careful—and never, never think that you are justified in doing something wrong just because you are trying to do something right.”

Spoken with her unfailing kindness, and accompanied by generous action, who could resist such wise counsel?

Which books do you return to for renewed perspective?

Thank you for reading with me 🙂

 Leah 🙂

 

Dear Mrs. Bird

“Never give in, never, never, never–never, in nothing, great or small, large or petty–never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.”    ~Winston Churchill

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This is the tale of the life-changing and heart-rending experiences of Emmy, a young woman with journalistic ambitions and seemingly endless energy, during the Blitz in WW2 London. It’s written in a light, good-humoured (almost diary-like) tone that invited me to smile along with her; but this voice was contrasted by the unimaginable horrors through which she somehow kept heart enough to Keep Calm and Carry On.

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I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw it featured in a library. (book-lust at first sight;) I’ll chalk that instant attraction up to the vintage-style cover, especially the old-fashioned typewriter keys. I liked it even more once I opened it up and started reading! I am always drawn to stories from this time and place, and the main character’s somewhat disarming flaws drew me right into hers. What she occasionally lacked in ‘honour and good sense’, Emmy made up for in compassion and her brave determination to act on it.

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For anyone who enjoys some witty ‘British-isms’ sprinkled liberally throughout a highly readable novel that takes you into the heart and mind of a likeable young woman, give this book a go; it won’t disappoint!

Also, do tell… what other historical fiction from this era do you recommend?

Thank you for reading with me,

Leah 🙂

p.s. I’m not the only blogger (on WordPress) writing about this one!

Check these posts out, too:

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/44595095/posts/16643

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/77612352/posts/1721

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/84556689/posts/54921

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/44873370/posts/10851

https://wordpress.com/read/blogs/30727745/posts/6902