I can't remember exactly when I first heard of this series of books, but a few months ago Amazon recommended one of them to me, and I thought it was worth trying the first in the series. So it has proved: I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading its sequels.
Precious Ramotswe opens her private detective agency in Gaborone with the proceeds of her father's estate. She has no experience but combines a passion for her subject with canny intuition. The novel weaves shorter and longer episodes against an idyllic backdrop of Botswana.
In this respect, it is reminiscent of Miss Marple, whose 'Golden Age' Home Counties England nevertheless contained a number of individuals who set out to do despicable deeds. For the most part, though, Mma Ramotswe's approach to her business is more in line with Sherlock Holmes than Miss Marple: she is not infallible, quite prepared to take the law into her own hands if necessary and keeps the police at arm's length, where possible. Some episodes broadly follow the path one would expect from their outset; others have clever and original (but not entirely implausible) twists to them.
But the book is more than detective fiction: in some chapters Mma Ramotswe's agency is peripheral to the story, whether she is retelling her father's life and her upbringing, or taking a cup of bush tea with Mr J L B Matekoni of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors. She can give out the moral disapproval of Miss Marple for 'modern' behaviour and yet she has the understanding and wisdom of Anna Madrigal. She is a Christian, though by African standards a liberal one; she holds traditional values when it suits her, but confronts anyone who might suggest that a woman's place is in the home.
The pace of the book is always gentle, and even in moments of tension there is a relaxed way of telling the story. I doubt this book is for everyone: Amazon reviews are mixed, mostly positive but clearly some people did not get what they were expecting. The book's style is often naïve and simple, but that makes it seem more original, and even when the storyline is sad, there is something uplifting about the way it is told.