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World renowned mystery writer Alexander McCall Smith is coming to Ottawa

By Alejandro Bustos on April 7, 2013


Alexander McCall Smith is a modern day renaissance man.  In addition to selling tens of millions of fiction books around the world, he is a recognised expert on medical law and bioethics, having served on such bodies as the International Bioethics Commission of UNESCO.  He is also an emeritus professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh, on top of his charity work in Africa.

Currently on a two-and-a-half week speaking and signing tour of Canada and the United States, McCall Smith will be in Ottawa on Wednesday, April 10, in what will be only one of two Canadian stops.

“He’s one of the writers that we have wanted to have for a number of years,” says Sean Wilson, artistic director of the Ottawa Writers Festival, organizer of the event.  “When someone like him is in North America you get on the phone to get him.”

While the April 10 event is sold out, local mystery writer Peggy Blair has announced that she will interview McCall Smith for Rogers Television.  On her Facebook page, Blair says that the interview will air at the end of April, to coincide with the spring 2013 Ottawa Writers Festival that is taking place at the end of the month. (Update: Unfortunately McCall Smith will no longer be able to do the Rogers interview – see comment below).

Born in what is now Zimbabwe, McCall Smith has written or contributed to more than 100 books, including a major textbook on law and medicine, a book on criminal law in Botswana, short story collections, best-selling children’s books, and his wildly successful mystery novels.

His best known work is the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, a series that currently has 13 books and which has sold more than 20 million copies worldwide, while being translated into 45 languages.

Set in Botswana in southern Africa, the No. 1 Ladies’ novels revolve around Precious Ramotswe, a brilliant and kind-hearted woman who opens her country’s first-ever female detective agency.  She soon finds herself working on several cases, such as tracking down a kidnapped boy, investigating the alleged poisoning of the sibling of a government official, and a man who wants to make amends for his past sins.

Written in clear and beautiful prose, the series offers a life-affirming portrait of Africa that is completely different from the stereotypical images on the news.  I fell in love with this uplifting and positive vision of Africa, which is wrapped up in a fantastic collection of detective stories.

“We have such a one dimensional view of Africa,” says Wilson. “When we start hearing stories about how people really live there we can see that we are all pretty similar.”  So if you haven’t read one of McCall Smith’s books, do yourself a favour and pick one up.