Welcome to the world of Mma Precious Ramotswe and her No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, as written by Alexander McCall Smith.

Celebrated for his warm and engaging storytelling, Smith was born in Zimbabwe and educated in Scotland, and this series was inspired by his deep affection for Botswana, its people, and its culture.

His time spent in Botswana and his love for the country led him to create this wonderful character who brings to life the unique charm and warmth of the African nation.

The first novel was published in 1998, and 24 books later, Mma Ramotswe is still going strong.

She’s clever, sensitive, and insightful, so I thought it was about time to review the first book that started it all.

What is the Book About?

As mentioned above, the book is set in Botswana in the late 90’s, and Mma Ramotswe is a 30-something only child whose father has just passed away.

Having left her some money, she has decided she wants to be a private detective and opens up the aptly named No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.

With an office and a secretary, she sits and waits for her first client of many clients who start off with small tasks and problems for her to solve.

This is where the book differs from most cozy crime novels insofar as there is no big whodunnit but rather a series of smaller PI jobs that follow on from each other.

It’s actually brilliantly done as every chapter introduces new characters and clever ways that Mma Ramotswe gets to the truth.

For example, a wealthy client wants Mma Ramotswe to prove his teenage daughter has a boyfriend. Or a wife whose husband has gone missing. There’s also a factory owner who needs to prove that an employee’s injury was not his fault.

Solving each case isn’t as much about following clues as demonstrating Mma Ramotswe’s wisdom and street smarts.

Apart from these cases, we get to discover just how beautiful Botswana is, a lot about bush tea, and her relationships with those around her.

Overall, No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a delightful book that really draws you into the world of this fascinating woman and her ability to solve every problem, no matter how big or small.

The Main Characters

Our main character is Mma Precious Ramotswe, who is only referred to as Mma Ramotswe throughout the book. An only child, her mother died when she was young so she was raised by her father, who she adores, and her aunt.

Now that her father has died and left her enough money to be comfortable, she has opened her detective agency in the town of Gaborone in Botswana.

Near her office is the Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors garage run by Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, her friend and potential love interest.

Working for her is Mma Grace Makutsi, the only employee at the agency. Though they hardly interact with each other, Mma Makutsi is there to type up notes and basically bring an air of professionalism to Mma Ramotswe’s business.

They are the three main characters in the first book, though others make more appearances as the series progresses.

The Verdict

I loved this book, quickly downloaded the second and third, and fully plan to read all 24.

There’s something so wonderful about the way it is written that if you closed your eyes, you could imagine yourself there, sitting outside Mma Ramotswe’s office, drinking bush tea.

And, despite the crime-solving aspect, this has a far more peaceful and relaxed vibe about it compared to a lot of the other novels in the genre.

There are no ‘aha’ moments or dramatic encounters with criminals, only a slower-paced way of life where the people are kind and considerate and where Mma Ramotswe’s insight into humanity steers her in the right direction every time.

That isn’t to say that the book is perfect. There is a point where only addressing Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni as Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni throughout the entire book got a little grating.

I mean, would it have been so difficult to let the formality go a little and just call him John??

I also wasn’t a fan of the constant references to Mma Ramotswe’s physical size.

We get it; she’s a larger lady, but I’m not sure McCall Smith needed to hammer that point home as much as he did.

Or, indeed, what the purpose of it was. Does it make a difference to how smart and wise she is? Nope.

They are minor issues, but nonetheless, they did cause me a few eye rolls; they were just not enough to put me off the book.

Then again, it was written in 1998, which, although not that long ago, was maybe a little less politically correct than today.

Overall, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is an engaging and insightful book that offers readers a glimpse into Mma Ramotswe’s wonderful life in Botswana.

TV Adaptation

Like most good books that find a following, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency was adapted into a TV series.

The BBC and HBO got together and began with a feature-length TV film broadcast in the UK in March 2008.

It was the first major TV production filmed in Botswana, and a six-episode series was ordered, broadcasting in March 2009.

However, despite the positive reviews, it was cancelled after one season.

Despite some serious research, it doesn’t look like another adaptation is currently in the works, but if that changes, I will let you know!

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