McCall Smith, Alexander

McCall Smith, Alexander
▪ 2009
Sandy McCall Smith 
born Aug. 24, 1948, Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe]

      On March 23, 2008, BBC television broadcast an adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith's best-selling novel The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (1998) to critical raves. The film was the pilot for a 13-episode TV series featuring McCall Smith's indomitable Precious Ramotswe, to begin production later in the year. Despite the unexpected death of the film's director, Anthony Minghella (Minghella, Anthony ), just a few days before the broadcast, 2008 looked to be another productive year for McCall Smith.

      McCall Smith was raised in Southern Rhodesia and moved to Scotland at age 18 to study at the University of Edinburgh. He received a law degree in 1971 and then returned to Africa, where he helped to establish the law school at the University of Botswana. Back at the University of Edinburgh, where he eventually became a professor of medical law, McCall Smith published a range of scholarly works, including, with J. Kenyon Mason, Law and Medical Ethics (1991) and, with Colin Shapiro, Forensic Aspects of Sleep (1997). He also served as vice-chairman of the British Human Genetics Commission.

      McCall Smith published his first fiction, a children's novel, in 1976. He went on to write more children's books, many of which were set in Africa or derived from African sources. Children of Wax: African Folk Tales (1989), a collection aimed at both children and adults, consists of stories he collected in Zimbabwe.

      He also wrote radio plays and short stories, and it was from one of the latter that The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency emerged. The novel sold slowly at first. It did not appear in the U.S. until 2002, after McCall Smith had already published two more books centred on Mma Ramotswe (Mma being an honorific), Botswana's only female detective, but it soon after became an international best seller. By the time the series reached its ninth novel, The Miracle at Speedy Motors (2008), more than 15 million copies of the books had been sold in English alone. Throughout the series, Mma Ramotswe—along with her faithful assistant, Mma Makutsi, and Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni—solve mysteries in which crime consists not of murder but of petty burglary, jealousy, and other puzzles of everyday life in Botswana. The books are “about good people leading good lives,” McCall Smith explained to an interviewer.

      McCall Smith embarked on three other series in 2003–04: The Sunday Philosophy Club, which began with a 2004 novel of the same name and has as its main character Isabel Dalhousie, a philosopher and amateur detective in Edinburgh; the 44 Scotland Street series, which began as a serial published in the newspaper the Scotsman in 2004; and the von Igelfeld series, which began with Portuguese Irregular Verbs (2003), a comic novel about the German academic Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld.

      In 2005 McCall Smith retired from teaching to focus on writing full-time. He was made CBE in 2007.

J.E. Luebering

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Universalium. 2010.

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