I don't read a lot of mysteries. I used to listen to audiobooks of the Kinsey Milhone alphabet series--A is for Alibi, C is for Corpse, etc. I like Sherlock Holmes. But at the library, there are only two reasons I'll go into the mystery section: Mma Ramotswe and Dr. Siri Paiboun.
What they have in common, besides the obvious quality of both taking place in other countries, is a sense of the lighthearted, and (not incidentally) of the actual mysteries being almost subplots. I couldn't even tell you what anyone is trying to solve in any of these books; the point is the characters, the cleverness, and the ambiance.
The two series are very different, though, and I was just thinking about those differences today. In the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency books, the country of Botswana is practically a character. The beauty of the land, the patient, the values and methodical mindset of most of the characters, and the dialogue are all intended to be distinctly Botswanan. I say "intended," because I have no context for saying whether it's accurate.
But simplicity is the main descriptor I would use for them. People say a lot of sentences like, "It is very bad when your car breaks down." Things are "bad" and "good." Simple observations are made, and a lot of conversation consists of agreeing with each other. I'm not sure if the simplicity is a little condescending, in presenting everyone as uncomplicated, maybe primative? I don't want to think so, and it's terribly charming, but sometimes I wonder.
Dr. Siri's communist Laos is very different. Of course, a communist nation in the '70s is inherently different from a modern African country, but there's more to it than that. Things are messier in Laos, and less pleasant, but the language is the big difference. Cotterill's characters use a lot of sarcasm, wit, cynicism, and complexity. There are still a lot of traditional cultural values represented--respect for elders, family taking care of each other by sending their money home, national pride. But the individual characters in the book come across as more complicated. I can't decide if my assessment that this is a good thing, that it's probably an accurate reflection of the internal life of people everywhere, that it's less condescending, is in itself a somewhat condescending Eurocentric way of looking at things.
So now I don't see anything for it but to learn Setswana and go to Africa to figure the whole thing out.