First off, multiple people recommended this book to me because I've lived in Africa. Little geography lesson: this book is set in Botswana, I lived in Tanzania. Not the same place. Botswana is in southern Africa, Tanzania is in east Africa. Although they share more in common than they do with many west or north African countries, it's like telling someone who lived in BC that they should read Anne of Green Gables because they spent time in Canada.
Having said all that, one of things I did really like about The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was its imagery of Africa. Without going overboard on the sentimentality, Alexander McCall Smith did a good job on creating a vivid image of Botswana. There was a balance of both the good and bad aspects of living there which I appreciate. It is so common for books, both fiction and non-fiction, to sway to either end of the spectrum when it comes to life in Africa. Smith does tend to look more at the good, but he doesn't shy away from talking about the bad.
Given all the talk and praise I had heard for this series, I actually wasn't that blown away by the first book. A series of unconnected mysteries which are often solved with very little fuss are held together by the overarching story of Mma Ramotswe, who has opened Botswana's first detective agency run by a woman. I love a good detective novel. I love trying to solve the crime before the protagonist but this book didn't really allow for that and that stopped me from really getting into it.
I have the second book in the series and I'm sure I'll get around to reading it, but it has moved down my list in order of importance. Overall, if you're looking for a light read for the beach or your daily bus commute into work, this is a good mindless diversion. If you're looking for a gripping whodunnit that you can sink your teeth into, stick with Agatha Christie.