I'm a fan of mystery novels, although I often find myself less than happy with the subgenre this corresponds to, the so-called "cozy mystery." Several things though lift this above the usual book on the mystery aisle. The style is simple, even spare, and the structure rather loose, but Smith's detective, Precious Ramotswe, is charming and clever--a worthy successor to the detectives that she mentions as her inspiration more than once, those of Agatha Christie. Like Christie's Miss Marple, she's a shrewd observer of the people and society around her and she has an ability to deftly navigate the different cultures and social levels in her community. There's also a good sense of the setting, from cultural to natural of Botswana, Africa, where Mma Ramotswe has set up her agency. This isn't structured like the traditional mystery novel. It begins with Mma Ramotswe on a case, then the next chapter is the first person story of her father, then successive chapters over the next few dozen pages tells of her life before she starts the agency. And that part is not all fluff--it includes the story of her brief and abusive marriage. Most of the rest of the novel is episodic, dealing with various cases, although there is one overreaching mystery she solves in the end. I can't rate this up there with the best of Agatha Christie, Josephine Tey, and Dorothy Sayers. It can't boast a literary style, incredible twists, nor did it evoke deep emotion. But I do rate it well above the usual mystery fare. This reminded me a bit of Maisie Dobbs, in that it concerned a woman in a traditionally male-dominated culture opening a detective agency. Except I greatly preferred Ramotswe over Dobbs. I think Ramotswe is both more likable and more plausible a creation and Smith the stronger writer. This was a quick read--it took me around three hours, and I enjoyed the entire journey. I was thoroughly charmed by both the main character and the African setting, and I'll certainly be reading more in the series.