Dan Sandman

02: Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall Smith

In Books, Crime, Fiction on 10/01/2014 at 12:00 pm

Tears of the Giraffe by Alexander McCall SmithPrimrose Hill Community Library, located directly below my house, is now my favorite place to read. It is quiet enough for study, small enough for regulars, and run by volunteers. There are daily newspapers, neatly laid on a circular table with several green-cushioned chairs. All kinds of books, stacked into categories and regularly updated. Public computers and Wi-Fi access; free of charge and much appreciated. And best of all, there is the soft comfort of red leather armchairs to sink into with a good book. That’s where you’ll find me, I have become part of the library scene.

If you had, by chance, come into the library this week, you’d have seen me gently smiling. That’s because I had happily decided to continue following the ongoing adventures of Precious Ramotswe, the best female private detective in Botswana. And although Mma Ramotswe’s job is to solve crime, she is not drawn towards melancholy when dealing with African politics. This would be in contrast to her Swedish police counterpart Kurt Wallender, the creation of crime fiction writer Henning Mankell.

Whereas Mankell places his troubled characters in psychologically naturalistic environments to polemically open debate, on the contrary, Alexander McCall Smith’s equitable central characters are situated in heroic circumstances, left to balance intrinsic problems of moral philosophy. On the one hand, we have the detective novel as a vehicle for controversial political debate. On the other hand, the crime genre is driven towards a more buoyant worldview. These contrasts, between cynicism and optimism, show us how wonderfully varied crime fiction can be.

My personal journey begun, at around the age of  ten, when my mother would read me Holmes stories and we’d watch Poirot on ITV. Nowadays, my mother loans me Wallander books and we watch Sherlock on DVD. Speaking of which, I must order a copy of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency for the small screen.

Meanwhile, somebody has kindly put the entire series on the internet.

  1. I haven’t seen the TV series (and I’m not sure I want to see it) but I have read all the novels in this series and eagerly await the next one. This is unusual for me since I’m not normally into series books, but a few capture my heart and the characters become like old friends. I read where one critic described McCall Smith’s style as “deceptively simple” and I agree; his character development over the series is quite good, I think. It’s always a distinct pleasure to visit with Mma. Ramotswe, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, and Mma. Makutsi, as well as the other unforgettable characters of this series. It makes me want to visit Botswana!

    • The TV series is quite well done, but I think books are always preferable to films – they better use our imagination. McCall Smith is very crafty, he draws you in to the story, so you care about what happens, and you’re unaware he’s even doing it. Last week, I was lucky enough to find book #3 in a jumble sale for 50 pence (83 cents). Except a review in the coming weeks!

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