Six Degrees of Separation from No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

I’ve had a short break from this meme, but I enjoy it so much that I have to join in again this January. Especially since it starts with the first book in a series which I initially enjoyed a lot. The premise is simple: create a book chain starting with a book set every month by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best, and see where it takes you in six quick rolls of the dice.

This month we start with Alexander McCall Smith‘s gentle detective fiction set in Botswana, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective AgencyI loved Mma Precious Ramotswe, with her womanly figure and straight-laced charm, her kindness and thoughtfulness, but also relentless pursuit of criminals. Besides, it was delightful to read about Africa in a more positive light for a change. After 4-5 books, however, I abandoned the series: it started to be a bit too similar and unchallenging for my taste.

Another series set in Botswana is much more to my taste. Michael Stanley‘s Detective Kubu series also features a cuddly, larger-than-life detective, with enormous empathy and family feeling. The view of Botswana is much darker, however, and the crimes are much more tragic: political corruption, illegal organ transplants, the dark side of traditional medicine, oppression of Bushmen and so much more. I have Dying to Live still patiently waiting for me on my TBR pile and I always look forward to a new one in the series.

If books dealing with political corruption are your thing, there is one above all others which perfectly captures the Cold War paranoia (and is, perhaps, once more topical): Richard Condon’s The Manchurian CandidateA sleeper agent controlled by the Russians is about to assassinate political figures one by one. This frightening concept has been given the movie treatment twice, in 1962 (starring Laurence Harvey and Frank Sinatra) and in 2004 (with Liev Schreiber and Denzel Washington), and has given rise to a political term describing a candidate running for office who publicly supports one group to win election, but once elected uses executive or legislative powers to assist an opposing group. I could say something at this point about Theresa May and Brexit, but I will desist!

Manchuria is a region in China that was invaded by the Japanese in the 1930s with horrific brutality. There aren’t many Japanese books depicting this gruesome period in their history, but Abe Kobo‘s harrowing (and possibly semi-autobiographical) novel Beasts Head for Home shows a Japanese man returning after the end of the war to this region where he grew up, witnessing the consequences of those atrocities and questioning what it means to be one nationality or another, and what one might call home, in a period of fluid borders.

Abe Kobo is best known for his enigmatic novel The Woman in the Dunes, which has also been adapted into a film directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara. I remember both the book and film as been hugely suffocating, like being buried alive in that relentless onslaught of sand.



Another enigmatic book which also makes me think of endless sand and of being buried alive is Albert Camus’ L’ÉtrangerThe main protagonist Meursault’s act of violence on the beach in relentless sunshine and his complete lack of remorse hurt me profoundly as a teenager, but each time I reread it, I found different nuances and depths to this story. It’s one of the defining books of the 20th century and explains human indifference and passivity.


But before we get too bleak, let’s end on a more cheerful note, as befits Mma Ramotswe. Another outsider and free spirit is the joyous Huckleberry Finn (Adventures of…) by Mark Twain. He resists all attempts to be ‘sivilised’ or kidnapped or restrained, and has amazing adventures in the process. Although we could and should argue that it is escaped slave Jim who is the true outsider in this story and Twain is not shy about pointing out the hypocrisy of a system that treats Huck and Jim so differently.

So from Botswana to the Mississippi, via Manchuria, Japan and Algeria. Where will your book chain take you?

12 thoughts on “Six Degrees of Separation from No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency”

  1. Oh, I like these links, Marina Sofia. And I’m glad you included the Detective Kubu series; I like those novels very much, too, and haven’t quite caught up. I really must get back to them!

  2. so glad you’ve joined in again this month, and you certainly travelled widely! I too loved the character of Precious Ramotswe, although I admit that I form that opinion from the television series rather than reading the books. Dying to Live sounds interesting, though, as does Beasts Head for Home.

  3. Delighted that you’ve joined in again this month. I’m afraid the McCall Smith series didn’t appeal and the TV adaptation was a little too cosy even for a Sunday night! I like the way you took a dark turn before ending on a cheerful note.

  4. I enjoy this meme, both doing it myself and seeing other people’s chains. I’ve read just two of your books – the Camus (I’ve read it in French when I was at school and a few years ago in English) and also the Mark Twain.

  5. i’ve not heard of the Detective Kubu series either but what a coincidence we should both make our first links to a crime story in Africa that is rather more dark than the ladies detective agency experiences

  6. I have read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and Huckleberry Finn (a long time ago), but I haven’t read any of the other books in your chain. The Detective Kubu series sounds interesting and quite different from the McCall Smith books!

  7. Great links! I hadn’t realised The Manchurian Candidate was a book – it must really annoy authors when people think the film is the original! I’m very tempted to squeeze it in…

  8. ah, so cool to connect The Woman in the Dunes and L’Étranger! 2 great books. I did read this first by McCall, and was so disappointed I didn’t try the rest of the series

  9. This is great! I went from Botswana to Ghana and you stayed in the region with that wonderful series by Michael Stanley! I really need to read that one too. I love mysteries set in parts of the world that are unfamiliar to me. I learn a lot. Well done!

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