Friday, November 24, 2006

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

When Precious Ramotswe's father was dying, he told her to sell his herd of cattle and buy a business and a house. She agreed with him, but instead of buying a butcher's shop, she started a detective agency. As the clients began coming, Precious used her commonsense and her listening heart to solve cases of suspected witch doctors, missing children and husbands, and an erratic doctor whose behavior disturbed his peers.

Alexander McCall Smith has created a sleuth who is as cozy as a teapot and as exotic as an African sunrise. The slow rhythmic pace of the book is charming and compelling, even seductive. You could lose yourself in this prose, and disappear without a struggle. I highly recommend it.

I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This!

and other things that strike me as funny.

Bob Newhart has been a fixture in comedy for lo these many years. From his best-selling comedy albums in the sixties, to his two long-running sit-coms, to his current penchant for character roles in comedy movies, he has been ever-present on the Hollywood scene as the wry long-suffering accountant (or dentist or innkeeper).

In I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This! (which is a punchline for a joke), Bob talks about his early years, how he gave up accounting for comedy, his marriage, and his career--all with his characteristic deadpan humor. I have always been a fan, so I enjoyed it very much.

Things I learned from this book:
1. Bob has been married for 40 years to the same woman, which I really admire.
2. Bob had two top-selling comedy albums in the 1960s.
3. Bob is, underneath it all, a subversive person, and believes all comedians are.

I can recommend this book to the Bob Newhart fan. And who isn't?

Jane Austen and the Man of the Cloth

Being the second Jane Austen mystery

Stephanie Barron has developed a charming premise for a mystery series: follow Jane Austen though her well-documented life, and fill in the blanks with a murder and an opportunity for Miss Austen to discover the truth and bring the true criminals to justice.

Having read both the first (JA and the Unpleasantness at Scargrave Manor) and the second, I can say that they are pleasant and well written. The author manages to avoid making Jane Austen too modern, for the most part, and she carefully follows the real timeline of Jane's life, adding an element of realism to a decided fantasy. But she is no Jane Austen, and must unavoidably suffer by comparison.

If you like Jane Austen, you could well like this series. If you don't, hmm, well, you could still like it if you like your mysteries in a historical setting. But do read them in order; there is a certain continuity that helps.

Under Orders

Dick Francis is one of the most prolific mystery writers around today, with many dozens of novels that feature horse racing sooner or later. After the publication of Shattered, and the death of his beloved wife, it seemed that he was done writing forever, but now, six years later, Under Orders shows that he is back and in fine form.

This book features Sid Halley, jockey-turned-sleuth, who once again, despite or because of physical threats, relentlessly seeks out the criminals at large in the horse racing world. Halley still has the crippled hand and the dogged determination that so distinguishes him, but he now has a beautiful Dutch girlfriend, which brings him both happiness and vulnerability. Can he have the same disregard for her physical well-being as he does for his own?

Dick Francis has done it again. I hope he will keep writing; I have missed his work, and enjoyed Under Orders thoroughly.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Miss Buncle's Book

D. E. Stevenson's crowning achievement, in my opinion, is Miss Buncle's Book. This charming story takes place in a small English village in the 1930s, when Barbara Buncle discovers that her income, like much of the world's financial resources, is disappearing. Desperately she tries to think of a way to boost her cash flow--raising chickens?--and finally decides to write a book. And, oh, the book she writes!

The characters are delightful, the story and setting picturesque, and the book-within-a-book a remarkable recurring decimal. If you can find Miss Buncle's Book--and it is difficult these days--and enjoy it, see if you can locate its sequels, Miss Buncle Married and The Two Mrs. Abbotts. Then you'll know how it ends.