The No. 1 Lady Detective

A J K Writer Favorite

Among my recent emails I found one from Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency located in Gaborone, Botswana, Africa. In the fashion typical of the messages we write and receive during the holiday season, the letter begins by telling the momentous events in Mma Ramotswe’s life. She ended her letter by wishing me, her dear friend and sister, “the love that we feel for those with whom we make our journey through life.”

The only thing that kept me from busting out of the house and over to Mysteryscape to buy Alexander McCall Smith’s latest, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, in which Mma Ramotswe recounts her adventures on vacation, was the fact Mysteryscape closed this year. (All who patronized that wonderful bookstore miss it terribly.)

Oddly enough, I was slow to come around to the charms of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. A decade or so ago, a librarian friend of mine who reviews books recommended it to me. But when I tried to read the first book in the series, I put it down again right away. The book didn’t start in the proper way for a mystery. Instead of a crime scene and a dead body, it began with a bio of the detective. What’s up with that? I thought. I returned it, unread, to the library.

After a few years, after the first book had become an international best seller and the series very popular, I told myself, “You’d better check this out, J.” But I couldn’t find any of the books at the closest Borders, another late and lamented bookstore. And I tried more than once. Surely such a popular series should be here somewhere, I thought. But still I couldn’t find it. Then one day as I zipped past the mystery section at Borders, I spotted the distinctive and charming cover of the first in the series in the M’s. For months I’d looked for it under S. There’s no hyphen in there. How was I to know they alphabetized it under M?

This time I bought the book, read it, and loved it. And it changed my life. Really? you ask. Well, yes, because it showed me a fresh and different way to structure a mystery novel and, even more important, it brought me out of a funk during which I wrote no fiction for going on three years. Me, the long time fiction fan? That was a really serious depression I was in. So I thank Precious Ramotswe and Alexander McCall Smith for getting me back to writing fiction, my life-long passion, the thing I do primarily because it makes me happy.

So what did I learn from reading The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency?

1) I saw that in that book Mma Ramotswe had several cases presented very much like individual short stories. This structure encouraged me to go back to a series of twenty-nine short stories I’d written with Cinderella as a detective twenty years, three kids, and a few extra pounds after the ball to see if I could make a novel out of some of them.

2) Another lesson I learned was how McCall Smith used Mma Ramotswe’s life, her loves, and her friends, to tie the book together from start to finish.

3) And the best lesson of all, especially for a writer who wants to write a mystery series? I saw how important it is for a series to have a strong detective that readers willingly identify with to carry them through each book and on to the next and the ones after that.

The season’s joy and blessings to you, Precious Ramotswe, and to your creator Alexander McCall Smith, and to you, my readers.

Best, Juliet

The No. 1 Lady Detective inspired me to write Walls, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, and Wings, a Cinderella, P. I. Novel, both now available as eBooks and trade paperbacks from Amazon. Twelve of my original stories appear in Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories and eight more appear in Cinderella, P. I. Around the World. Both collections are also available from Amazon as eBooks and paperbacks. The third and final book in the series, Cinderella’s Last Case and Other Stories, will appear in 2016. And look for the audiobook of Cinderella, P. I. and Other Fairy Tale Mystery Stories coming soon from Audible, Amazon, and iTunes.