Tuesday, April 7, 2009

No.1 Ladies Detective Agency

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I like mystery novels and crime novels. I was reading Agatha Christie in 3rd grade, after Encyclopedia Brown became rather quaint. I got tired of Miss Marple early on and discovered the hard-boiled set- starting with father Dashiell Hammett, and then his sons- Robert Crais, Lawrence Block, Dave Robicheaux and perhaps the grittiest of them all, Andrew Vachss. I flirted with the other side too, like Richard Stark's Parker novels- perhaps best known through movies like Payback and Point Blank- and now I like D.C.'s George Pelecanos and mastermind of L.A. corruption, James Ellroy.
So it was natural to watch No.1 Ladies Detective Agency on HBO. It's set in Botswana, where the vivacious, Rubenesque and crafty "Precious" Ramotswe sets up a detective agency in her town of Motswana. She's likeable, sharp and introspective. Precious's father raised her to be a smart and independent girl, and Jill Scott creates an enjoyable character in her; good company on a Sunday night. She quickly garners an assistant named Makutsi (Anika Noni Rose), a skinny and hyper yet efficient Watson who manages the office- even though the typewriter is missing an "h" and a few other keys- and is quite entertaining with her work ethic.

Precious is friendly with JLB (Lucian Msamati), the owner of an automotive shop and the source of some of her cases. In the 2-hour pilot- which was originally imagined as a feature film- he finds a "bad medicine" bag in the Benz of one of his customers, with a child's fingerbone inside. This leads down many dark paths, as Precious tries to bring justice to her little town.
The show is filmed entirely in Botswana- supposedly a first- and part of what makes it appealing is the new location, seeing a story set in modern Africa that isn't Blood Diamond or some other great white hero saves the natives crap. And I'll be honest, the accents make things more amusing. Hearing earnest Makutsi prattle on about proper protocol is delightful, and Precious's reflections on her world are made all the more enjoyable.

I've only watched two episodes, but they make for nice couch fodder, and make me interested in finding the books by Alexander McCall Smith. The stories lack the hard-boiled grit of Hammett, but come from the Chandler tradition, where an outsider unravels the webs of deceit and uncovers unseen links and bonds in the city around them. Give it a try, there will only be 6 episodes.

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