The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – Alexander McCall Smith (2001?, first in the Ladies’ Detective Agency series; available in print, ebook and audiobook)
Reading this book is like listening to the genteel tones of an Oxford don reciting lyrical folktales. The author has a unique and refreshing style that was a true joy to read.
This is not a typical “mystery” book, despite the title. Mma (pronounced “Ma”) Ramotswe lives in a small town in Botswana. She is an intelligent, practical and observant woman, approaching middle age with an impressive girth and a wide-ranging understanding of human behaviour. Upon her father’s death, she sells the cattle she inherited and decides to set up in business — as a “lady detective”, the only one in the country. She has no training or experience as a private investigator, but her common sense, patience, widespread network of acquaintances and firm commitment to doing what is right enable her to be successful.
There are vignettes of the various cases she investigates — a cheating husband, a counterfeit relative, a teenager sneaking off on illicit adventures, a missing man, a stolen car. There is no violence or gore, no high-speed action (the pace of life is very slow in Mma Ramotswe’s Africa), no heart-stopping suspense — just the gentle rhythms of the lives of common people in a small town on the edge of the Kalahari. Interlaced through the book are Mma Ramotswe’s musings on her life and her father’s life, on the changes going on as her country moves into modern times, on the struggle to retain the good parts of their culture and customs, on her strong love for Africa and her fellow people.
And the best part is that this is the first in a series that started some years ago — so you can go right into reading the fifteen more that have been published.