Alexander McCall Smith seems to be one of those writers you either "get" or you don't. Unless you're like me, and you don't get him right away but fate, circumstance and/or a really pushy, bookish God keeps thrusting his books at you until, aha! You finally get him.
A couple of years ago, after reading lots of hype surrounding The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, I was excited to pick it up at my local book discounter. At the time, I thought it was... okay. It didn't light my house afire, but it was all right. Then a friend loaned me Tears of the Giraffe... and it was also okay. (Aside: Yes, I've been reading this series out of order. I don't think that was the cause of my slow-on-the-uptake-ness, though.) Then I borrowed The Kalahari Typing School for Men from the library, back when I still harboured the illusion that I had what it takes to be a solid library patron. Also okay. And then I picked up Morality for Beautiful Girls dirt cheap at a yard sale.
Suddenly I got the appeal of these books. The dwelling on seemingly irrelevant details. The distinctively untitillating crimes under investigation. The slow unfolding of action. The quiet affection for the Botswanan landscape and people. The deceptively simple morality and personal approach to meting out justice. And the stolid, endearing character of the main character and owner and proprietor of the detective agency, Precious Ramotswe. I got it. I get it.
The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom: The Portuguese Irregular Verbs Trilogy
by Alexander McCall Smith (#12-14)
I was a little concerned that exploring a literary universe outside the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series would require the same time and energy -- time and energy I don't have, to be frank -- but luckily this wasn't the case. I felt almost immediately welcome inside the world of these books, which take place in the cloistered confines of a German linguistics institute.
The hero, the unnaturally tall and memorable Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, is almost diametrically opposed to Precious Ramotswe. Equal parts pompous and naive, von Igelfeld bumbles along in a self-important way that does my Wodehouse-loving soul good. As the trilogy progresses, von Igelfeld's series of adventures become increasingly outlandish, in a way that reminds me of one of my favourite comic novels, Forrest Gump.
(I'll also mention that I adored these books, not just for their refreshing take on storytelling, but because they comprise not one but THREE novels to add to my sad tally for the year. I've never pretended to be a high-minded person who's above such things, so you won't be too shocked -- will you? -- to know that I did a search to make sure this trilogy actually had been published as separate books, and wasn't just an amusing abuse of the word "trilogy" for effect.)
Get out there and read some McCall Smith. He's like Febreze for your spirit, but without the noxious chemical headache afterward.