The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith was an absolutely delightful book! I adore Mma Precious Ramotswe and can't wait for the second book in the series by Alexander McCall Smith, The Tears of the Giraffes, to arrive in my mail box.
This was not the typical whodunnit. There was no single overarching murder or crime spree that had to be solved before the book was finished. There was, however, a cast of delightful characters, some of whom I am sure will be resurfacing in future books (I've not read any in this series - a failing I intend to rectify ASAP!). And there were plenty of red herrings.
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was a wonderful introduction to Mma Precious Remotswe and the country she obviously loves deeply. After an abusive marriage and the death of her baby, Mma Ramotswe returns to her father's home and settles into a pleasant routine, happily spending her days tending to her father and working for her brother-in-law. When her father dies, Mma Ramotswe decides to use her inheritance to establish the first detective agency in all of Botswana to be run by a woman. She knows nothing about being a private investigator, but she has a deep desire to help people with their problems. With her sound common sense and insight into human nature, she becomes a resounding success and gradually builds her little business.
Her first cases are pretty run-of-the-mill PI stuff: wayward husbands, an over controlling father trying to keep tabs on his willful daughter, an ex-employee suing his former employer for the loss of a finger, and the mysterious case of a doctor who is competent one day but a medical disaster the next. While following the advice of a PI how-to book to solve these cases, Mma learns to rely upon her own instincts and powers of observation.
The one case that runs through the book and touches Mma Remotswe most deeply is the tragic disappearance of a child who is thought to have been the captured and killed by a witch doctor. Although she has not been solicited to look for the child or solve the mystery of his disappearance, Mma Ramotswe is haunted by the tale and investigates the matter, despite people's reluctance to even admit that this evil sort of magic exists, let alone talk about the particulars.