I became aware of Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series while looking up a “Cozy Mystery” author. (I am an avid “Cozy Mystery” genre fan.) When I initially read about this series, I thought it would be a perfect match for my reading preferences. I had no idea the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series would become one of my favorite series of books. I don’t really consider it a mystery series, but I do see it as a “cozy” series.
Alexander McCall Smith’s Current Series
Alexander McCall Smith writes four series, each of them about very different subjects. One thing all of them have in common, is that all four of them are very well-crafted book series. The four series are: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series, The Isabel Dalhousie Series, The Portuguese Irregular Verbs Series (aka the Professor Doctor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld Trilogy), and The 44 Scotland Street Series.
The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Series
Mma Ramotswe opens a detective agency in Botswana after reading a manual that explains the fundamental tasks and requirements expected of detectives. Of course, she needs a competent secretary… enter Mma Makutsi, the ideal secretary because of her 97% score on the secretarial test and her ability to make Bush tea.
Mma (Precious) Ramotswe is the full-figured (“traditionally built”) owner of the agency, and one honest woman, with wisdom not learned in schools. She is someone you would feel honored to know. Mma Makutsi (her secretary/associate) is someone who has lived a difficult life, but who has improved her conditions through hard work and effort. Mr. J. L. B. Matekone is the owner of a garage, and Mma Ramotswe’s love interest. He is an extremely kind man who sees the good in people and in life’s difficult situations.
Although all of McCall Smith’s books are huge successes, his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency seems to be the series that has most endeared him to many readers. Mma Ramotswe runs a detective agency, but the books come up short as real mysteries. The books are enjoyable because of the characters (who are truly fleshed-out) and the vivid descriptions of life in Botswana. You actually might want to make reservations on the next available flight to Botswana!
The Isabel Dalhousie Series
This series features Isabel Dalhousie, an incredibly rich and intellectual woman who resides in Edinburgh. Because of her wealth, she is able to devote a lot of time pondering any philosophical questions she deems worthy of her time.
Isabel is the editor of The Review of Applied Ethics, and the first book in the series introduces us to Isabel’s habit of continuously interjecting herself into the lives of others. She seems to enjoy nosing around, which in turn opens up the possibilities of different plots. Each book tends to have one major problem that needs to be solved by Isabel. These problems provide Isabel with opportunities to correct situations… and philosophize.
Of the four of McCall Smith’s series, this one seems to have an agenda (of sorts) to convey… through Isabel’s philosophical outlook on life. As the editor of The Review of Applied Ethics, Isabel is able to tackle life’s questions and problems. Fortunately though, McCall Smith has included Grace, Isabel’s maid, as a character who doesn’t share Isabel’s rich circumstances or liberal views. Also in the cast of characters is Jamie, a young musician who is entwined in the lives of Isabel and Cat, Isabel’s beautiful, young niece.
The 44 Scotland Street Series
Alexander McCall Smith wrote the books in this series as story installments for The Scotsman newspaper. It is because of this reason the books seem like compilations of vignettes, with several plot lines independently going at the same time All of the characters in the novels live at 44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh at one time or another. Unfortunately, as it almost always is with a series, there are some characters (with their respective plotlines) who aren’t as enjoyable as others. And, since the 44 Scotland Street novels are compilations of short stories, the reader has to wait for his/her favorite storyline to reappear. But the wait is well worth it!
I think the most endearing character from 44 Scotland Street is Bertie, a little genius who just wants to be a little boy. McCall Smith has us rooting and cheering for Bertie every time we are lucky enough to be in the midst of one of his plotlines. This little boy is such an innately sweet and good child, and it is such a joy to see him circumvent his way through life.
The Portuguese Irregular Verbs Series
This trio of books follows Professor Doctor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, an academic who devotes his life to Portuguese irregular verbs. His love of these Portuguese irregular verbs is so blindingly great, he cannot fathom other people not finding them equally glorious/magnificent. This trilogy is probably the funniest of McCall Smith’s four series.
The books include some rather crazy scenarios the Professor-Doctor inflicts on others through his egocentric actions. He seems rather oblivious to any complications he inflicts on others… He is not one with a guilt complex or an abundant sense of empathy!
Alexander McCall Smith’s Many Books
Alexander McCall Smith is a very prolific author, but don’t be frightened away by the amount of books he has written. I know in many cases, when an author has written a lot of books in a relatively short amount of time, the more recent books seem like “reruns” of plots and characters. Not so with Alexander McCall Smith! If you are looking for an author who will put a smile on your face, then Alexander McCall Smith might be the one for whom you’ve been looking!