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McCall Smith, Alexander 1948- (Alexander Alasdair McCall Smith)

McCall Smith, Alexander 1948- (Alexander Alasdair McCall Smith)

Personal

Born August 24, 1948, in Bulawayo, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe); married Elizabeth Parry (a physician), 1982; children: Lucy, Emily. Education: Attended Christian Brothers College (Bulawayo, Rhodesia); University of Edinburgh, L.L.B., then Ph.D. Religion: Scottish Presbyterian. Hobbies and other interests: Playing bassoon.

Addresses

Home and office—16A Napier Rd., Edinburgh EH10 5AY, Scotland. E-mail—[email protected]

Career

Educator, author, and attorney. Queens University, Belfast, Northern Ireland, former professor; teacher in Swaziland; University of Botswana, founder of law school and professor of law, c. 1980; University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, Scotland, professor of medical law, 1984-2005. Helped create a criminal code for Botswana. Human Genetics Commission of the United Kingdom, vice chairman until 2004; United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), former member of International Bioethics Commission.

Awards, Honors

Chambers Award in children's fiction; Waterstone's Author of the Year designation; Dagger in the Library Award, Crime Writers' Association; SAGA Award for Wit, 2003; Author of the Year award, British Book Awards, 2004; named commander, Order of the British Empire, 2007.

Writings

FOR CHILDREN

The Perfect Hamburger, illustrated by Laszlo Acs, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1982.

Alix and the Tigers, Corgi (London, England), 1988.

Film Boy, illustrated by Joanna Carey, Methuen (London, England), 1988.

Mike's Magic Seeds, illustrated by Kate Shannon, Young Corgi (London, England), 1988.

(Editor) Children of Wax: African Folk Tales, Interlink, 1989.

Suzy Magician, Young Corgi (London, England), 1990.

The Five Lost Aunts of Harriet Bean, Blackie (London, England), 1990, illustrated by Laura Rankin, Bloomsbury Children's Books (New York, NY), 2006.

The Tin Dog, illustrated by Jon Riley, Random House (New York, NY), 1990.

Akimbo and the Crocodile Man, Methuen (London, England), 1993, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, Bloomsbury Children's Books (New York, NY), 2006.

The Muscle Machine, illustrated by Terry McKenna, Hamish Hamilton (London, England), 1995.

The Bubblegum Tree, illustrated by Georgien Overwater, Hippo (London, England), 1996.

Bursting Balloons Mystery, illustrated by Georgien Overwater, Hippo (London, England), 1997.

The Popcorn Pirates, illustrated by Georgien Overwater, Hippo (London, England), 1999.

Akimbo and the Elephants, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, Bloomsbury Children's Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Akimbo and the Lions, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, Bloomsbury Children's Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Akimbo and the Snakes, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, Bloomsbury Children's Books (New York, NY), 2006.

The Cowgirl Aunt of Harriet Bean, illustrated by Laura Rankin, Bloomsbury Children's Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Harriet Bean and the League of Cheats, illustrated by Laura Rankin, Bloomsbury Children's Books (New York, NY), 2006.

Max and Maddy and the Chocolate Money Mystery, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan, Bloomsbury Children's (New York, NY), 2007.

Max and Maddy and the Bursting Balloons Mystery, illustrated by Macky Pamintuan, Bloomsbury Children's (New York, NY), 2007.

Also author of The White Hippo, Hamish Hamilton; Marzipan Max, Blackie; The Ice-Cream Bicycle, Viking Read Alone; The Doughnut Ring, Hamish Hamilton; Paddy and the Ratcatcher, Heinemann; and The Princess Trick, Puffin.

"NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY" NOVEL SERIES

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, D. Philip (Cape Town, South Africa), 1998, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Tears of the Giraffe, Polygon (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2000, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2002.

Morality for Beautiful Girls, Polygon (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2001, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2002.

The Kalahari Typing School for Men, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2002.

The Full Cupboard of Life, Polygon (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2003, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2004.

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2004.

Blue Shoes and Happiness, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2006.

The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2007.

The Miracle at Speedy Motors, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2008.

Series novels have been translate into over twenty-five other languages.

"SUNDAY PHILOSOPHY CLUB" NOVEL SERIES

The Sunday Philosophy Club, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2004.

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2005.

The Right Attitude to Rain, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2006.

The Careful Use of Compliments, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2007.

"VON IGELFELD" NOVELS SERIES

The 2 1/2 Pillars of Wisdom, 2002.

At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances, illustrated by Iain McIntosh, Polygon (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2003, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2005.

The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs, illustrated by Iain McIntosh, Polygon (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2003, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Portuguese Irregular Verbs, illustrated by Iain McIntosh, Polygon (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2003, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2005.

"SCOTLAND STREET" NOVEL SERIES

44 Scotland Street, illustrated by Iain McIntosh, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2005.

Espresso Tales: The Latest from 44 Scotland Street, illustrated by Iain McIntosh, Polygon (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2005, Anchor Books (New York, NY), 2006.

The World according to Bertie, Little, Brown (London, England), 2007.

FICTION; FOR ADULTS

Heavenly Date, and Other Stories, Canongate (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1995, published as Heavenly Date, and Other Flirtations, Canongate (New York, NY), 2003.

The Girl Who Married a Lion, and Other Tales from Africa, Pantheon (New York, NY), 2004.

Fatty O'Leary's Dinner Party, Polygon (Edinburgh, Scotland), 2004.

Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams, Canongate (New York, NY), 2006.

OTHER

(Editor with Tony Carty) Power and Manoeuvrability, Q Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1978.

(With John Kenyon Mason) Butterworths Medico-Legal Encyclopedia, Butterworths (Boston, MA), 1987.

(Editor with Elaine Sutherland) Family Rights: Family Law and Medical Advances, Edinburgh University Press (Edinburgh, Scotland), 1990.

(With John Kenyon Mason) Law and Medical Ethics, third edition, Butterworths (Austin, TX), 1991.

(With Kwame Frimpong) The Criminal Law of Botswana, Juta (Cape Town, South Africa), 1992.

(Editor with Michael A. Menlowe) The Duty to Rescue: The Jurisprudence of Aid, Dartmouth (Brookfield, VT), 1993.

(Editor with Colin Shapiro) Forensic Aspects of Sleep, Wiley (New York, NY), 1997.

(With Daniel W. Shuman) Justice and the Prosecution of Old Crimes: Balancing Legal, Psychological, and Moral Concerns, American Psychological Association (Washington, DC), 2000.

(With Alan Merry) Errors, Medicine, and the Law, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), 2001.

Adaptations

The story "Children of Wax" was made into an animated film; other stories by Smith have been read on BBC Radio. A film adaptation of The No. 1 Ladies' De-tective Agency was produced by Richard Sydney Pollack and directed by Anthony Minghella. McCall Smith's "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" novels were adapted as audiobooks by Hachette Audio. Other books adapted as audiobooks include 44 Scotland Yard, read by Ian MacKenzie, Recorded Books, 2005; Espresso Tales, read by MacKenzie, Recorded Books, 2006; and Akimbo and the Elephants, read by the author, Recorded Books, 2006.

Sidelights

A recognized expert on medical ethics, Alexander McCall Smith has become best known outside the academic world as the author of best-selling adult mysteries. In fact, McCall Smith began his writing career in the early 1980s as a children's book author. While working as a professor at the University of Edinburgh, the Scottish author was also producing such books as The Perfect Hamburger, Akimbo and the Crocodile Man, and Harriet Bean and the League of Cheats, some of which are set in the African country of Rhodesia, where McCall Smith grew up. It was only after his 1998 novel, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, gained best-seller status that the prolific author was able to retire from academia and focus on writing for both children and adults.

The youngest of four children, McCall Smith was born in 1948, when Rhodesia was still the British colony known as Zimbabwe. The Smith family was living in Africa because of the author's father's job as a public prosecutor for the colonial government, and McCall Smith remained in Rhodesia throughout his childhood. Attending the Christian Brothers College in his home city of Bulawayo, he moved to Scotland at age seventeen to continue his education. After earn both an L.L.B. and Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, he briefly taught at Queens University in Belfast, Northern Ireland, but the pull of family drew him back to Africa. While living in Botswana, McCall Smith helped found the University of Botswana Law School and taught law there for several years while also helping to build the country's criminal code. Years later, in 1992, he coauthored The Criminal Law of Botswana, one of several books in which he focuses on legal matters.

McCall Smith eventually returned to Scotland and became a professor of medical law at the University of Edinburgh. In addition to teaching, he wrote widely on his subject, gaining a reputation as an expert in medical legal ethics. He was given many prestigious positions; in addition to accepting several temporary professorships abroad, he also served as the deputy chairman of the British government's Human Genetics Commission as well as Britain's representative on the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) bioethics commission. What his colleagues may not have realized was that, while becoming a highly respected professor and ethics expert, McCall Smith was also establishing a secondary career as an author of fiction.

McCall Smith's interest in writing began in childhood, and by age eight he was attempting to find a publisher for his first novel. While pursuing a career in law, he continued writing as a hobby. Interestingly, when his real career as a writer began years later, it began almost by accident, when the young attorney won a children's fiction-writing contest run by Chambers publishing. Reflecting both Western and non-Western cultural influences, his children's books include The White Hippo, The Muscle Machine, Akimbo and the Elephants, Max and Maddy and the Bursting Balloons Mystery, and a series of novels featuring a young sleuth named Harriet Bean.

One of McCall Smith's earliest books for children, The White Hippo, is set in Gambia and focuses on the unsuccessful efforts of a group of villagers to protect an albino hippo from a white man claiming to be a photographer. More Western in theme, The Perfect Hamburger finds a boy named Joe joining forces with Mr. Borthwick to help the man save his family-run hamburger shop from being forced out of business by a chain restaurant. Returning to Africa in Akimbo and the

Elephants, McCall Smith introduces the young Kenyan boy who also appears in Akimbo and the Crocodile Man, Akimbo and the Lions, and Akimbo and the Snake. A lover of nature, Akimbo witnesses the harm poachers cause in his family's game reserve as they kill adult elephants in order to steal their tusks. Determined to save the large, lumbering creatures, the boy decides to go undercover, convincing the poachers that he wants to learn the skills of their illegal trade. Noting that the series' short, fast-paced chapter-book format will appeal to reluctant readers, a Publishers Weekly contributor praised McCall Smith's "concise writing" as well as the "evocative" illustrations contributed by artist LeUyen Pham. In Akimbo and the Crocodile Man the boy helps a zoologist who has been injured on the family's game preserve, while Akimbo and the Snakes finds Akimbo facing a dangerous green mamba snake while accompanying Uncle Peter on a trip to a snake park. The boy's adoption of a young lion cub proves poignant in Akimbo and the Lions when Akimbo realizes that the wild creature has grown old enough to be set free. Reviewing the "Akimbo" stories, Booklist contributor Shelle Rosenfeld praised McCall Smith's "brave, caring protagonist" and explained that the series "convey[s] appreciation and respect for the African landscape, culture, and people."

In The Five Lost Aunts of Harriet Bean chapter-book readers are introduced to another spunky preteen, in this case nine-year-old Harriet Bean, who lives with her forgetful father, an inventor. When her dad suddenly recalls, after years of forgetting, that he has five older sisters, Harriet goes in search of her aunts and discovers that they share many of her personality traits: curious by nature, they lead eventful lives as detectives. In Harriet Bean and the League of Cheats the girl joins up with twin aunts Japonica and Thessalonika and goes undercover as a jockey in order to help racehorse trainer Mr. Fetlock discover who is cheating at a local racetrack. A trip to the United States is in store for Harriet in The Cowgirl Aunt of Harriet Bean when Japonica and Thessalonika decide to visit their sister. Formica's work as a cowgirl is having being made more difficult due to the activities of some wily cattle rustlers, and her sisters and Harriet set about finding a way to help her. Reviewing The Cowgirl Aunt of Harriet Bean in School Library Journal, Pat Leach praised the book as a enjoyable "romp of quirky personalities and unlikely situations" that is enhanced by illustrator Laura Rankin's "comic" drawings.

Of all McCall Smith's works, the prolific writer is best known for his "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series, which begins with the 1998 novel of the same name. The series' pivotal character is Mma Precious Ramotswe, a solidly built, divorced woman in her late thirties who works as a professional sleuth. Mma Ramostwe was inspired by a woman McCall Smith saw while visiting Botswana. "We were going to have chicken for lunch," he recalled to Marcel Berlins in the London Guardian, "and there was this woman in a red

dress who chased and chased the chicken and eventually caught it, and wrung its neck. I thought to myself: I would like to write about an enterprising woman like that."

When readers meet her in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Mma Ramotswe is living in Gaborone, Botswana, a town in the cattle country bordering the Kalahari Desert. Liberated from her regular job by an inheritance of 180 heads of cattle she has received from her father, she decides to found the first all-female detective agency, and soon becomes embroiled in family conflicts such as cheating husbands, as well as employer-employee troubles. Helping Mma Ramotswe in her threadbare operation is Mma Makutsi, a secretarial college graduate who has lost better jobs to her prettier classmates. Another key figure is J.L.B. Matekoni, a mechanic who assists the women and eventually marries Mma Ramotswe as the series progresses. The bride-to-be is a rather unconventional detective, one who also serves as family counselor, comments on manners and the lack of them, and is less concerned with legally administered justice than with doing right by her clients. In her favorable review of The No. 1 La-dies' Detective Agency for the New York Times, Alida Becker dubbed Mma Ramotswe the "Miss Marple of Botswana."

The adventures of the dynamic and resourceful Mma Ramotswe have continued to spin out in several other novels, among them Tears of the Giraffe, The Kalahari Typing School for Men, In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, Blue Shoes and Happiness, and The Good Husband of Zebra Drive. In each novel, Mma Ramotswe's professional challenges are supplemented by an unending supply of engaging concerns, inconveniences, and surprises, as well as by the insights of the forthright heroine herself. In Blue Shoes and Happiness, for example, Mme Ramotswe worries about her increasing girth while dealing with a local witch, a cook suspected of stealing food for her husband, and the relationship issues of loyal secretary Mma Makutsi. Noting that McCall Smith "renders brisk, seamless tales that are both wry and profound," Booklist contributor Allison Brick added of Blue Shoes and Happiness that, underlying the swirl of activity, "are eloquent descriptions of the serene African country that holds a special place in his heart." Reviewing The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Christine Jeffords noted in Best Reviews online that the author "succeeds in giving his story a lilting, lyrical flavor that makes the reader feel almost as if she is listening to a story being spun by a native tale-teller." Spectator critic Anthony Daniels praised him for "creating fictional characters who are decent, goodhearted but not in the least bit dull." "For all their apparent simplicity," Daniels added, "the Precious Ramotswe books are highly sophisticated." Noted Allison Block in Booklist, the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series serves as McCall Smith's "love letter to a country whose salubrious climate is matched by the warmth and humanity of its people."

Inspired by a commission from the Scotsman newspaper to write a serialized novel published five days a week for six months, the first volume of McCall Smith's "44 Scotland Street" series features 800-word chapters and a narrative that was directed by reader input. In 44 Scotland Street readers meet Pat, a young twenty-something whose life connects with those of the people who share the same Edinburgh boarding house address, as well as the characters she meets at her job in a local art gallery. Noting the popularity of the original serial, a Publishers Weekly critic praised the book's "large, well-drawn cast of characters, the intricate plot and the way Smith nimbly jumps from situation to situation" through varying point of view. Discussing the sequel, Espresso Tales: The Latest from 44 Scotland Street, another Publishers Weekly reviewer noted that the author's "pacing is impeccable: moving his focus from one character to another seamlessly, dropping in just the right amount of description, [and] keeping the talk light and sharp." Noting the book's appeal to young-adult readers due to characters such as Bertie Pollock, a precocious six year old who is being overscheduled by his ambitious yuppie parents, Will Marston wrote in School Library Journal that Espresso Tales "is a prose poem about the small things in life that are being threatened by globalization and mass entertainment."

Other works by McCall Smith include short-story collections such as Heavenly Date, and Other Stories and The Girl Who Married a Lion, and Other Tales from Africa, as well as Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams, a work described by a Publishers Weekly reviewer as "an elegant contemporary reworking" of a Celtic myth about a young god who "presides over love and youth." His other series include the "von Ingelfeld" series as well as the "Sunday Philosophy Club" books, a "whimsical" set of novels in which "murder and moral obligation mingle," according to a Publishers Weekly contributor. Featuring Edinburgh-based moral philosopher-turned-detective Isabel Dalhousie, the "Sunday Philosophy Club" installments include The Right Attitude to Rain and Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, the latter in which a man is troubled by the memories of the donor of his recently implanted heart. School Library Journal reviewer Kim Dare noted of the series that McCall Smith's "characters and plots are thoughtful and thought-provoking, and will stay with readers well beyond the final page," as will the novel's vivid Edinburgh setting.

"McCall Smith's greatest gift as a writer … is that he can write likeable characters," explained Ruaridh Nicoll, echoing Dare's assessment of the "Sunday Philosophy Club" books while also summarizing the adult mystery novels that comprise the bulk of the author's work. "Kindness, combined with mischievousness, marks his heroines, while his villains are soused in self-importance …," Nicoll added. "He likes foibles and eccentricities and is suspicious of slickness. He is somebody you enjoy spending time with, and that, rightly, makes him a bestseller."

Biographical and Critical Sources

PERIODICALS

Booklist, September 15, 2003, Mary Frances Wilkens, review of Heavenly Date, and Other Flirtations, p. 212; August, 2004, Allison Block, review of The Sunday Philosophy Club, p. 1872; November 1, 2004, Allison Block, review of The Girl Who Married a Lion, and Other Tales from Africa, p. 442; February 1, 2005, Allison Block, review of In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, p. 918; April 1, 2005, Allison Block, review of 44 Scotland Yard, p. 1325; September 1, 2005, Shelle Rosenfeld, review of Akimbo and the Elephants, p. 135; July, 2006, Allison Block, review of Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, p. 1877; March 1, 2006, Allison Block, review of Blue Shoes and Happiness, p. 44; October 1, 2006, Allison Block, review of The Right Attitude to Rain, p. 6, and Dream Angus: The Celtic God of Dreams, p. 38; March 15, 2007, Allison Block, review of The Good Husband of Zebra Drive, p. 4.

Choice, February, 1992, P. Alden, review of Children of Wax: African Folk Tales, p. 903; July-August, 1994, M.A. Foley, review of The Duty to Rescue: The Jurisprudence of Aid, p. 1792.

Guardian (London, England), January 21, 2003, interview with McCall Smith, p. 8.

Kirkus Reviews, June 15, 1991, review of Children of Wax, p. 793; March 15, 2005, review of 44 Scotland Street, p. 314, and In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, p. 12; July 1, 2005, review of Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, p. 712; July 15, 2005, review of Akimbo and the Elephants, p. 797; May 15, 2006, review of Espresso Tales: The Latest from 44 Scotland Street, p. 492.

Library Journal, July, 1991, Patricia Dooley, review of Children of Wax, p. 106.

New Statesman, September 6, 2004, Ruaridh Nicoll, "Applied Ethics," p. 52.

New York Times Book Review, January 27, 2002, Alida Becker, "Miss Marple of Botswana," p. 12.

Publishers Weekly, July 22, 2002, Charlotte Abbott, "From Africa, with Love," p. 75; April 25, 2003, review of Heavenly Date, and Other Flirtations, p. 38; August 2, 2004, review of The Sunday Philosophy Club, p. 51; April 25, 2005, review of 44 Scotland Street, p. 35; July 18, 2005, review of Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, p. 177; September 5, 2005, review of Akimbo and the Elephants, p. 63; May 22, 2006, review of Espresso Tales, p. 31; August 21, 2006, Dream Angus, p. 49; August 28, 2006, review of The Right Attitude to Rain, p. 31.

Resource Links, October, 2006, Mavis Holder, review of The Five Lost Aunts of Harriet Bean, p. 12; December, 2006, Teresa Hughes, review of Harriet Bean and the League of Cheats, p. 20.

School Library Journal, September, 2005, Sheila Janega, review of In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, p. 244; November, 2005, Mary N. Oluonye, review of Akimbo and the Elephants, p. 108; December, 2005, Kim Dare, review of Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, p. 178; November, 2006, Will Marston, review of Espresso Tales, p. 171; December, 2006, Kathleen Meulen, review of The Five Lost Aunts of Harriet Bean, p. 108; January, 2007, Pat Leach, review of The Cowgirl Aunt of Harriet Bean, p. 98.

ONLINE

Alexander McCall Smith Home Page,http://www.AlexanderMcCallSmith.co.uk (June 15, 2007).

Best Reviews Online,http://thebestreviews.com/ (October 4, 2002), review of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

BookLoons,http://bookloons.com/ (December 12, 2002), G. Hall, review of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency.

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