After her father dies, Botswanan Precious Ramotse decides to sell her inheritance - 180 cows - and move to the capital Gaborone and open a detective agency. From a young age her father had trained her to develop her memory skills and she has a keen sense of observation. Business is slow, but Precious soon has a secretary, Grace Makutsi and fits in well with her neighbors. Slowly, clients begin to trickle in: a woman who thinks the man who claims to be her father - he had abandoned the family when she was just a young child - is actually an impostor; a woman who thinks her husband is having an affair - a view Grace enthusiastically generally supports since she thinks all men are liars and cheaters; and a factory owner who thinks an employee claiming compensation for an accident is scamming him. Her interest is also drawn to the case of a missing boy but she she must face a powerful local gangster to get the information she needs. Written by
The late Anthony Minghella's early credits included writing several episodes of 'Inspector Morse', so there's a symmetry in the fact that his final film as a director was another story about a fictional detective, namely Alexander MacCall Smith's Precious Ramotse, the eponymous No.1 lady detective in Botswana. Now, I've read detective stories set in the third world that could have been set anywhere, but the charm of this story lies emphatically in its African flavour. Also a degree of its horror: the tale does not altogether shy away from some of the grimmer realities of contemporary African life, but sweetens them with the comforting idea that at least some of these problems could be resolved by a formidable middle aged woman short on sophistication but well-endowed with compassion and common sense. You could argue that this is a slightly patronising idea, although equally, you could argue that most British fictional detectives, from Miss Marple down to Morse himself, embody a certain archetypal Britishness just as clearly as Precious represents one idea of Africa. The gentle pacing and episodic construction means that it isn't exactly edge-of-your seat stuff; but its also fresh, diverting and oddly believable - and as such, a final feather in Minghella's cap.
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