Unusual Sleuth, Unusual Setting
By GINIA BELLAFANTE, NYT , March 27, 2009
Set in Botswana, where he used to teach law, his tribute to feminine amplitude became “The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency,” a book that has spawned nine others, resulting in a series translated into more than 40 languages, with more than 15 million copies sold in English. Since his mysteries first appeared, three unrelated series have followed, as well as six children’s books, a short-story collection, an academic text (“A Draft Criminal Code for Scotland”) and Mr. McCall Smith’s continuing involvement with the Really Terrible Orchestra, an Edinburgh band in which he plays the bassoon.
The appeal of the books is not in Chandleresque plotting; it relies on the spirit of inquisitive travelogue that Mr. McCall Smith has cultivated and that HBO faithfully maintains. There is a slow-growth, artisanal quality to the franchise, and the series, which stars an excellent Jill Scott as Precious, remains true to it. Anyone impatient with languorous pacing on television is at orange-alert risk of feeling fidgety.
Place is paramount in detective fiction and, in due respect, the series was filmed on location in Botswana, imagined in accordance with Mr. McCall Smith’s detailed, exuberant vision. Precious Ramotswe, a wounded but evolving divorced woman of 35 who leaves her rural home to set up shop as a private investigator in the capital city, Gaborone, is an avatar of her culture’s tenuous hold on urbanity.
Read the full piece at NYT online.