Thursday, February 19, 2015

Precious Ramatswe vs. Isabel Dalhousie

I am always happy to discover a new tale in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. There is something about the way he tells the stories of Precious Ramatswe and Grace Makutsi that comforts me, calms my breathing, and lowers my blood pressure. 

The latest, The Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe, is no exception. All sorts of exciting things happen - well, exciting for Botswana where the action takes place. Mma Makutsi opens the restaurant of the book's title - along with keeping her desk at the agency - and learns that being The Big Boss is not all that it is cracked up to be. Mma Ramatswe hires another detective - certainly low man on the totem pole - who helps her investigate the case of the Woman Who Can't Remember Her Name.

As always, many cups of bush tea and fat slices of cake are consumed, the little white van plays a starring role, Mma Makutsi's shoes once again talk to her and warn her about certain employees hired for her new venture, and the sights and sounds of Botswana fill one's senses. 

Always, and in all ways, a delight.

I wish I could say the same for Mr. McCall Smith's mystery series set in Edinburgh, a wonderful city full of history and tantalizing streets, and home to the Sunday Philosophy Club (which never meets). The detective here is of the amateur kind - Isabel Dalhousie. She is a character I would so like to like - but I just don't. I find her to be bossy and nosy and although she thinks she means well, she says and does the most hurtful things. 

Isabel is a woman in her forties, is comfortably well-off financially, and lives alone in her large family home that is taken care of by housekeeper Grace, who is not shy about stating her opinion on most everything. 

Isabel is the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics and spends part of her days reading submissions to the journal for publication. The rest of her time is spent having lofty thoughts on moral duty and analyzing everyday philosophical dilemmas. 

There isn't much mystery here. In the first book, Isabel sees a young man fall to his death from 'the gods', the upper balconies, in the theater. Was it an accident, a suicide, or a murder? When this one is solved, practically on the final page, Isabel's reaction to the outcome seemed rather suspect. 

In the second book, Isabel meets a man who has had a heart transplant and he keeps having fearful visions of a man's face. This gives Isabel plenty of chances to jump to conclusions which, for as much as she Analyzes Everything, seems out of character. 

Twice before, I have attempted to read the first book in this series and now, basking in the glow of The Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe, thought I would give Isabel another try. I made it through books one and two - The Sunday Philosophy Club and Friends, Lovers, Chocolate

Alas, my interest in Isabel has more than waned; it has ended.

I blame part of my sticking with Isabel and her prying ways on being stuck in my house by the ten inches of snow and bitter cold that we are experiencing. I downloaded the books from the library onto my Kindle. So easy. But, I am afraid I will have to leave Edinburgh and Isabel Dalhousie and patiently wait for the further adventures of Precious Ramatswe in  Botswana.


  1. It's good to know McCall Smith's Botswana books are better than his mystery series from Edinburgh. I can believe it. I have only read one of his Botswana books but I thought it was fun and made me picture Africa and his Precious character so easily. I felt along for the ride ...

    1. Yes, definitely The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency! I have read them all. I think this latest one is number 15. I could go back and start from the beginning and read them again. I have a friend who listens to the audio books and loves the narrator (and the stories). Maybe I should try that the second time around. Thanks for commenting.