Book Review – The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is the first detective novel in the eponymous series by Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith, first published in 1998. The novel introduces the Motswana Mma Precious Ramotswe, who begins the first detective agency in Botswana, in the capital city Gaborone, after her beloved father dies. She hires a secretary and solves cases for her clients.

The novel was first published in Scotland, where it gained a following. After two more novels in the series were published, all three were published in the US to much acclaim; in 2002, for example, Publishers Weekly called it a “little gem of a book”.

Mma Ramotswe sits in her office, the Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency. She has a secretary, and she has clients. She is in Gaborone the capital of Botswana, a place of which she is proud.

She is the only child of Obed Ramotswe, a man who worked long years in the mines in South Africa, until one day he witnessed a crime, and knew he had to leave the mines. He had married a year or two earlier, and their daughter was born in Mochudi. He was wise with the money he earned in the mines, using it to buy cattle and slowly grow his herd, watched by a cousin while he was in the mines. Not long after he returned, his wife died. A cousin, left by her husband because she was barren, came to help him raise his daughter Precious. The cousin taught her well, caring for her until a second man asked her to marry him, when Precious is about 10 years old. Precious continues at school until she is 16. Her father wants her to pursue more education, but she wants to stop school and does. She itches to see new places. She lives with her cousin and cousin’s husband. He has a business running buses, and is doing well. She takes a job in the firm, and uncovers thievery by another employee, defrauding the company. Each weekend she takes a bus home to Mochudi to see her father. On one bus trip she meets a boy, a musician named Note Mokote. Soon he proposes marriage to her, going to her father for his permission.

She heads back to Mochudi to be with her father until he dies from the lung disease he got in the mines, just after she is 34. Her father’s herd is large, and the price was good. She sells some of the good herd of cattle to set up her office in Gaborone and buy a house there. The house is on Zebra Drive. The office is well-located.

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