Sunday, June 24, 2012

Miss Marple of Botswana

I recently bought and watched the DVDs for The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which I had heard good things about. In fact, one reviewer blurb calls the detective "The Miss Marple of Botswana." Based on a series of books by Alexander McCall Smith, the show is about a woman named Precious Ramotswe, who uses her inheritance to open the first female detective agency in Botswana. She is most often called Mma Ramotswe, "Mma" being an equivalent form of address to Mrs. or Miss, I suppose, based on context. The male characters are similarly addressed as "Rra", and most everyone is courteous and cheerful.

This is a fun show full of colorful characters such as Mma Ramotswe's secretary Grace Makutsi, car mechanic J.L.B. Matekoni, gay hairdresser BK, and an orphan boy who hangs around the agency offering to do odd jobs for them. They solve a variety of cases such as missing persons, adultery, insurance fraud, car theft, and burglaries. I like these cases, because it strikes me as realistic for a struggling private detective agency, even if Mma Ramotswe balks at having to find a missing dog and tries to talk a father out of spying on his daughter and forbidding her from having a boyfriend. (Also, it reminds me of the original Sherlock Holmes stories which often dealt with such widely varying cases, whereas newer adaptations make it seem like Holmes doesn't consider a case interesting unless it involves murder, preferably serial killers. Though Holmes too balked at some cases as unworthy of him, he did come to understand that cases like BLUE, REDH, and SIXN can start out trivial, yet lead to interesting and unexpected adventures.)

Another good thing in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is that Mma Ramotswe often tries to resolve cases unofficially without involving the police. It's part of her philosophy to be forgiving and to seek a compromise. I liked this attitude except where it involved her abusive ex-husband Note, a trumpet player who occasionally comes to menace her. When he tries to blackmail her, she chooses to meet with him alone rather than confiding such threats to her secretary or her love interest. She insists on going it alone instead of seeking help, even though her friends are all worried about her. There's being strong and independent, and there's being stupid and oblivious to the wrong impression you're giving people.

However, I enjoyed how vibrant, funny, and intelligent she was. Also, Mma Ramotswe is a full-figured woman in contrast to modern Western ideals of beauty, and her voluptuousness is admired by many men on the show who don't prefer skinny women. There is also much local detail about Botswana, such as witchdoctors using the bones of children, and the high number of orphans due to AIDS. In spite of such tragedy (and the themes of domestic abuse) the show is a hopeful, optimistic portrayal of Botswana, with many characters being immensely proud of their country.

I will have to consider whether to read the books, once I'm done with the Conan Doyle biography. (Still about a hundred pages to go!) Ah there's too little time to read.

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