Title: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
Author: Alexander McCall Smith
Publisher: Pantheon Books
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is classified as a "gentle read." Generally, these types of novels are considered "nice stories," or as Joyce Saricks calls them, warm milk. In many ways, Smith's novel fits right in. The story focuses mostly on the relationships between Precious Ramotswe, the private detective heroine and the only lady detective in Botswana, and the people in her life from both her past and present: her father, her ex-husband, her best friend, her clients, etc. For the most part, this novel leisurely moves through the story from one client's case to another without many twists. That is not to say that there is no story arc. There is one case that serves as the main motivator for action in the novel: a missing eleven-year-old boy believed to have been kidnapped by witch doctors. However, her interactions with her best friend, auto mechanic J.L.B. Matekoni, and his feelings for her are the true center of the story.
For me, the pacing was too gentle. I would actually call it plodding. I don't mind slow reads as long as I feel I'm reading something I can sink my teeth into. This was not to case for The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Also, while the characters were charming enough, I found myself bored with the fact that there is so little story and so much focus on personal relationships. To be fair, the gentle read is not a genre that I particularly enjoy and this novel is about as close to the perfect example of a gentle read as one can get.
Having said that, if anyone came to me asking for a gentle read, I could recommend this one without hesitation. It is the type of book that one could pick up and put down at their leisure. There is very little upsetting material and it does emphasize traditional values in many circumstances. The ending is happy and upbeat and, as I said before, the main characters are charming and likable. Precious Ramotswe is a character that readers can really root for and those who enjoy gentle reads will find her story to be quite satisfying.