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by Alexander McCall Smith
Anchor Books, September 2002
226 pages
ISBN: 1400031346

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Precious Ramotswe is a private investigator with a difference. You won't find her hanging around bars or cruising the mean streets. Rather, she is a comfortably-sized woman who enjoys a refreshing cup of redbush tea and who solves her cases through good, old-fashioned commonsense.

Mma Ramotswe's claim to fame is that she has set up the only detective agency for ladies (sic) in Gaborone, Botswana. And before too long she finds herself embroiled in cases ranging from stolen cars and wayward teenagers to impostors and kidnappers.

McCall Smith's prose is a delight. You can smell and see Botswana in every sentence of his impeccable, measured writing. This is honest-to-goodness natural storytelling, which should be on the syllabus of any writing course. There are no gimmicks, no over-the-top flashiness instead, the reader is seduced by an affectionate portrayal of a culture.

The book is the first in a series, and by necessity dwells on Precious's past life, the death of her beloved father and on the difficult life he had led which allowed him to bequeath his daughter enough money to set up the detective agency. Beneath the understated prose and laconic humour, though, is a dark seam Obed Ramotswe's life in South African gold and diamond mines, Precious's short-lived and abusive marriage, the death of her child, witchcraft and kidnappings.

One of McCall's strengths is his ability to provide a convincing supporting cast who complement but do not overshadow Precious. These include her capable secretary Mma Makutsi, Happy Bapetsi and her conman father, Mr Paliwar Patel whose feisty teenage daughter is giving him cause for concern, and Precious's loyal friend and hesitant suitor Mr JLB Matekoni.

If, like me, your normal crime diet is the bleak, noir end of things, pour yourself a cup of redbush tea and prepare to be seduced by the no-nonsense Mma Ramotswe and her beloved Botswana.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, February 2003

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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