Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Double Comfort Safari Club

Alexander McCall Smith
I remember vividly when I discovered The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. It was December 1999. We’d just moved to Botswana. Nick was building a Radio and TV station and Maud, our first born, was ten weeks old. We were living in a thatched house with a lightening conductor on the roof, in a village called Tlokweng. My social life was baby and church and thanks to both I was invited to join a book club by the church-going mother of another small baby…
The book club specialized in African novels. There was an extensive library to choose from but as I’d been reared on Irish literature I didn’t recognize any of the authors. So I asked my church going friend to choose something for me she thought I might like and she picked The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. She said: “Best start with a novel set in Botswana…..”
The No1 Ladies’ Detective, Precious Ramotswe, is a Motswana lady left a legacy by her late father. Armed with a textbook entitled ‘The Principals of Private Detection’, a little white van and a teapot she rents an office in Botswana’s capital city, Gaborone, and optimistically opens for business.
‘What else does a detective agency really need? Detective agencies rely on human intuition and intelligence both of which Mma Ramotswe had in abundance.’
Business is slow at the start, until Mma Ramotswe solves her first case - a husband who goes missing after joining a church and becoming a Christian. Turns out the poor fellow was getting baptised in a swollen river after heavy rain, when he was swept way and eaten by a crocodile. Mma Ramotswe hunts the crocodile, shoots it, guts it and finds the man’s watch, which she returns to his wife. The wife takes the sad news calmly.
“Well at least I know he’s with the Lord,” she said, “And that’s much better than knowing he’s in the arms of some other woman, isn’t it?”
The Double Comfort Safari Club is the eleventh novel in this charming series. Mma Ramotswe is now married, she has two foster children; she has an ambitious assistant called Grace. This time her investigations must take her to the Okavango Delta in the picturesque north of Botswana to seek a tracker who has been left three thousand dollars by a tourist. Much is made of the expensive Hi-Tec boots assistant detective Grace insists she will need to venture out into the bush – I laughed ruefully and with recognition at this part of the story for I wore the same pair of Hi-Tec boots every day for four years in Botswana, even though they were a size too big on me – I’d bought them when I was pregnant with Maud and had ridiculously swollen feet...
Alexander McCall Smith was born and brought up in Zimbabwe, the volatile next door neighbour to peaceful Botswana. He is Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh and a prolific novelist – author of over sixty books, on a wide array of subjects, from medical law to philosophy and translated into thirty seven languages. The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency has received two Booker Judge’s Special Recommendations.
VERDICT: Throw away your self help books; chuck your happy pills into the bin. To learn the precious art of contentment, allow me to recommend the philosophical musings and gentle humour of The No1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.


  1. These sounds like such fun books. I have no idea how I've missed these in all my years as a mystery reader! I'll add these to my 'to read' list and head to the library!

    Thank you for the recommendation!

  2. I have the whole series, although some are out on loan and have not come back ;)

    I adore these books, although I have heard from Botswana natives that they hate them.

    Although I have never been to Bostswana, I have lived for years in Kenya and Ghana, and have a soft spot for Africa in general.