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American/Cozy Mysteries

The #1 Ladies Detective Agency, Alexander McCall-Smith, Anchor Books, $11.95.

The #1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall-Smith

This book is filled with many lovely such passages, just as it is filled with humor and a wonderful, so full of life main character that Precious Ramotswe lives and breathes as much as you and I - or at least you'll devoutly wish she did when you finish the book. To say Tony Hillerman only writes mysteries is a misnomer - he truly writes about the Navajos and their way of life. It is just as much a misnomer to say that Alexander McCall-Smith writes mysteries - this is a book about Africa and its people, and it's filled with love and affection as much as Hillerman's work is. Every page transports you to a different place - and while this book may touch oh so lightly on some of Africa's many problems, it is, in the main, a love letter to a country he obviously finds the loveliest on earth, as does his worthy creation, Precious. She's a fat Miss Marple with braids, set down in our present century with a past that includes an abusive husband, a dead baby, and Miss Marple's ability to see into the souls of the people around her. Precious actually asks indignantly of one character if they've even read Agatha Christie. Of course, comes the reply, I'm not ignorant. Precious also shares Miss Marple's affection for the people around her. This is hardly a linear story - in fact, the "story" itself couldn't be frothier - but it doesn't really matter. In the course of the novel you learn about Precious's childhood, her father and his death, and her establishing "The #1 Ladies Detective Agency" in Botswana. She's brought cases, some of them simple and some more complicated, but none of them are disturbing - you know Precious will make everything turn out OK. Just as you must acclimate yourself to Tony Hillerman's gentle storytelling rhythm, you must acclimate yourself to McCall-Smith's slower pace, but once you do, you'll find that you've inhaled the entire novel without looking up. The most disturbing thing in the book is a cobra in the engine of Precious' trusty car (you'll have to read the book to find out what it's doing there), but in general this is a reading experience that should make you feel mentally ten pounds lighter when you're done. Recommended for anyone of any age with a guarantee of absolute satisfaction.

Other books in the series: Morality for Beautiful Girls, Tears of the Giraffe and the latest, The Kalahari Typing School for Men.

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