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The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

Hello, everyone, and happy summer!  Although I have ambitious reading plans now that school is out, the first thing I wanted to do was read some mysteries!  (Not very surprising, I know.)  I started with the first book in Alexander McCall Smith’s series, which I have been meaning to read for years.

No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series

No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series

When Mma Ramotswe’s father, a successful cattle farmer, leaves her his cattle and suggests that she use her inheritance to start a business, she decides to open a detective agency.  She is the first woman in Botswana to become a private detective, so she names her business the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.  She initially encounters some skepticism from the men in her community, but she counters by referencing Agatha Christie to argue that women make good detectives because they are observant and have a good understanding of human nature.  (Not only did that endear her to this Christie fan, it was quite effective at convincing the characters in the story as well.)

Many of the mysteries I read are part of a series, and I’ve noticed that the first book is often quite different from those that follow.  The author has a lot of extra work to do, introducing the main characters who will recur throughout the series.  Perhaps because of this, the plot structure of this novel was a little different than most mysteries.  Mma Ramotswe opens her detective agency and solves several of her first cases over the course of the book.  I do not know if the rest of the books also contain several mysteries, or just focus on one, but I will be interested to find out.

I’ve heard it said that the best mysteries have a strong sense of place, and this series promises to be one of them.  Alexander McCall Smith’s descriptions of Botswana immediately captured my interest.  I was completely unfamiliar with Botswana before reading these books, but when I recently watched a tv special filmed there, I felt like I recognized the country instantly from his descriptions.

Acacia tree like Mma Ramotswe's

Acacia tree like Mma Ramotswe’s

The main character, Mma Ramotswe, is very likeable as well as being a talented detective.  She is strong, smart, and confident, which helps her to solve several cases despite having no experience in detective work.  She has a strong sense of right and wrong that makes her want to solve problems for her clients and neighbors.  She seems to have a pretty low opinion of men, which is not reciprocated-they seem to like her just fine.

I am giving this book four stars.  It was an enjoyable read, and I am definitely interested in continuing the series.  Give it a try if you’re looking for a nice summer mystery!  ★★★★


photo credit: <a href=””>Matt McGee</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=””>meredith_nutting</a&gt; via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;


Crooked House, by Agatha Christie

Happy November, readers!

Around Halloween, I usually like to treat myself to a novel by “The Queen of Crime,” Agatha Christie.  This year, I chose Crooked House.  This is one of her stand-alone books, without any recurring characters.  This book has the great supporting cast of well-drawn characters and surprising plot twists that we all expect from an Agatha Christie novel.  And I’m especially glad I read it, because I just found out that they are making it into a film!

The narrator, Charles Hayward, returns from WWII and wants to propose to Sophia Leonides.  Unfortunately, Sophia’s wealthy grandfather has just been murdered, and her whole dysfunctional family has fallen under suspicion.  Sophia is afraid that her family’s newfound notoriety will damage Charles’s diplomatic career, so she says she will not marry him unless her grandfather’s murderer is found.

It just so happens that Charles’s father is an Assistant Commissioner at Scotland Yard, who suggests his son use his connection to the family to help them solve the murder.  Everyone at Three Gables, the crooked house from the title, had means and motive, and (as usual-this is an Agatha Christie novel) they all seem to be hiding something.  I won’t say anything about the ending, but the last few plot twists are especially good!  I was really surprised by this one!

As usual, I’d recommend this novel to anyone who enjoys a good mystery.  But hurry up and read it before the movie comes out!  I’d say this one gets four and a half stars.  It’s not quite up there with favorites like Orient Express, but it’s a great book!  ★★★★1/2

P.S. Here’s a fun fact: the first publication of Crooked House in the US was a condensed version of the novel featured in the October 1948 issue of Cosmopolitan magazine.


The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

The Secret Adversary, by Agatha Christie

We had some severe weather in the DC area yesterday, and a thunderstorm just makes reading a mystery novel that much more fun.  I was on the edge of my seat most of the evening as I finished The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie.  This is the earliest novel to feature Tommy and Tuppence.  For some reason, these recurring characters are less well-known than Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.  I’m really not sure why.  Personally, I think they should get some more recognition.

Tommy and Tuppence are two young friends having trouble finding work after the war (this would be WWI).  They decide to form “The Young Adventurers, Ltd” and advertise in the newspaper for work.  Tuppence is offered a job impersonating another young woman.  Some background research reveals that this young woman disappeared under mysterious circumstances while carrying crucial intelligence documents, and soon Tuppence and Tommy are attempting to help the British Secret Service and an American millionaire find the missing girl and recover the lost documents.

Tuppence is confident, intuitive, and impulsive.  Tommy is calm and thoughtful.  The two of them together make an excellent detective team, and the dialogue Christie wrote for the two of them helps to give their books a lighter, faster pace.  The juxtaposition of the two very different characters also seems to speed up the pace.  Tuppence tends to jump right into situations, which by a series of coincidences and good luck provides the team with a lot of clues.  Tommy doesn’t move as quickly, but he is good at combining those clues into a well-thought-out plan or conclusion.  The character dynamic works very well.

This novel is characteristic of Agatha Christie’s other work in that it contains a lot of plot twists and a surprising ending.  I will say (just to brag) that I did suspect the villain early in the novel.  Of course, then I got thrown off by a red herring and suspected the wrong person for the rest of the book.  The novel is told from the perspective of several characters, which leads to quick changes of scene because the characters travel to a number of locations, together and separately, during the novel.  The premise is a good one, and although the first two chapters contain some fairly large coincidences, the rest of the plot unfolds very logically.  If you’re the type of reader that is trying to figure out the ending ahead of the detectives, you do technically have all the clues you need.  Let me know if you have better luck than I did!

I would recommend this book to any fan of Agatha Christie.  If you’re not familiar with Tommy and Tuppence, this is the one to start with.  I would also recommend it to anyone that enjoys The Thin Man movies; the witty dialogue will make Tommy and Tuppence remind you of a British Nick and Nora.  Finally, if you are looking for a good mystery to read during these end-of-summer thunderstorms, this one is a great choice!  I give it five stars, because it was just about impossible to put down.