A few years ago I picked up one of Alexander McCall Smith's books in the "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" series as I was passing through the airport. These are gentle, very human stories of Precious Ramotswe as she runs her detective agency in Botswana. They feature almost no murder or mayhem. The mysteries aren't convoluted. HBO and the BBC have recently produced a movie and series about them. One day this past week I realized where I'd seen all these characters before: in Mayberry.

Ma Ramotswe is the central figure, solving crimes with common sense and a keen understanding of human nature. She's very much like sheriff Andrew Jackson Taylor in Mayberry in the old Andy Griffith show. Her secretary and assistant detective is a skinny, wired helper with an inflated sense of self-importance: Grace Makutsi. She sometimes even acts like Barney. Ma Ramotswe's love interest is the stable, kind Mr. JLB Matekoni, the analog of Helen Crump. Next door to the agency's office is a hairdresser, the counterpart to Floyd the barber. Mr. JLB Matekoni runs a garage and employs two worthless apprentices. Let's see, in Mayberry were there idiots who worked on cars? Yes, the apprentices fill the roles of Goober and Gomer. Ma Ramotswe occasionally has to go out into the bush, just as sheriff Taylor has to go into the backwoods.  I'm expecting to see Otis and Howard Sprague show up at any time.

Did Mr. Smith lift the forumla from Andy Griffith? I don't think so, but he stumbled onto a timeless forumla that still works well.

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