The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (novel)

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This is an article about the book. For the television series by the same title, see The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (TV series)
The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
First edition
Author Alexander McCall Smith
Country UK
Language English
Series The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series
Genre Detective, Mystery novel
Publisher Polygon Books
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)
Pages 256
ISBN 0-7486-6252-9
OCLC 40736156
Followed by Tears Of The Giraffe

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is the first mystery novel in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith, set in Gaborone, Botswana, which features the Motswana protagonist Precious Ramotswe.

After a failed first marriage, Precious Ramotswe returns home. After her father dies, leaving his cattle to her, she sells some of them for her move to the city and a new life. In Gabarone, she starts a detective agency. Her cases take her to many places, meeting many interesting characters.

Plot summary[edit]

Mma Precious Ramotswe becomes a private detective, the first woman in Botswana to enter that profession. Motivated to help others and to make Botswana a better place, she encounters many dangerous and risky obstacles in the course of her investigations but succeeds through using her intelligence, courage and instinct. Along with the plot developments, Mma Ramotswe provides observations upon the qualities of Botswana and Africa: the culture, traditions, and natural beauties found there, and the inhabitants' pride in their land.

Main characters[edit]

  • Mma Precious Ramotswe: Woman who opens the Detective Agency.
  • Obed Ramotswe: Respected father of Precious, whom she calls Daddy. He worked in the mines, but always kept cattle.
  • Mma Grace Makutsi: Woman who talks her way into a job as secretary in the agency, on the strength of her high score at the Secretarial School, 97%.
  • Mr J.L.B Matekoni, Auto mechanic with his own business, Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, who becomes friends with Mma Ramotswe and proposes marriage to her.
  • Mr Patel: Very rich retired businessman in Gaborone, a client.
  • Note Mokoti: First and then ex-husband of Precious Ramotswe, a musician who took to beating her.
  • Dr Maketsi: Old friend of Mma Ramotswe from Mochudi.


National identity[edit]

In the second chapter, the author states, through Obed’s character, that Precious’ father is proud to be a Motswana because of Botswana's political stability. Alexander McCall Smith describes Mma Ramotswe as an African patriot, who loves Africa "for all its trials." He says that they never had political prisoners, that their banks are full of money and that they owe nothing.


Africa is home to many dangerous and some of the most feared creatures. The novel describes snakes and the crocodiles with great emotion and drama. In domestic life, the cattle in Africa are important. Always needed for food, care of cattle is a vital skill, and in some ways a currency in the local economy.

Allusions to historical events, persons[edit]

Part of the novel's plot is based on the murder of Segametsi Mogomotsi in 1994, a ritual killing in Mochudi.


  1. The Daddy
  2. All Those Years Ago
  3. Lessons about Boys and Goats
  4. Living with the Cousin and the Cousin's Husband
  5. What You Need to Open a Detective Agency
  6. Boy
  7. Mma Makutsi Deals with the Mail
  8. A Conversation with Mr J.L.B. Matekoni
  9. The Boyfriend
  10. Mma Ramotswe Thinks about the Land while Driving her Tiny White Van to Francistown
  11. Big Car Guilt
  12. Mma Ramotswe's House in Zebra Drive
  13. Why Don't You Marry Me?
  14. Handsome Man
  15. Mr J.L.B Matekoni's Discovery
  16. The Cutting of Fingers and Snakes
  17. The Third Metacarpal
  18. A Lot of Lies
  19. Mr Charlie Gotso, BA
  20. Medical Matters
  21. The Witchdoctor's Wife
  22. Mr J.L.B Matekoni


A reviewer in 2014 in The Guardian says "I really enjoyed this book, I found it thoroughly entertaining. Sometimes, while reading, I'd get so involved with the case Mma Ramotswe was solving that I wouldn't leave my chair until the case got over."[1]

The Dallas Public Library review says of Precious Ramotswe: "Always optimistic and appreciative of her life in her beloved country, Mma has more than common insight into human foibles and is therefore able to tackle her cases not so much from evidence (of which there is some) but from the psychology of the people involved."[2]

Publishers Weekly calls the book a little gem:

The desultory pace [of her first cases] is fine, since she has only a detective manual, the frequently cited example of Agatha Christie and her instincts to guide her. Mma Ramotswe's love of Africa, her wisdom and humor, shine through these pages as she shines her own light on the problems that vex her clients. Images of this large woman driving her tiny white van or sharing a cup of bush tea with a friend or client while working a case linger pleasantly. General audiences will welcome this little gem of a book just as much if not more than mystery readers [3]

Publication history[edit]

This novel was released in 1998 in the UK. This novel and the next two in the series were released at one time in the US, in 2002.[3]

Film, television, and theatrical adaptations[edit]


An adaptation for the screen The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was made in 2007, directed by Anthony Minghella (who also co-wrote the screenplay), and scripted by Richard Curtis. A movie for TV was made jointly by the BBC, HBO and some other production companies. It was broadcast in the United Kingdom on BBC1 television on Easter Sunday 23 March 2008".[4]


The novel was adapted as a musical performed in Cape Town, South Africa in fall 2015. The musical was written in conjunction with McCall Smith, and includes "performing a music score composed by Scotsman Tom Cunningham and Cape Town native Josh Hawks. Twelve specially created songs incorporate African dance, reggae, pioneer-style jazz and gentle ballads."[5]


  1. ^ Butterfly Rainbow (4 October 2014). "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith - review". The Guardian, US edition. Retrieved 26 February 2016. 
  2. ^ Kralisz, Victor (29 November 2014). "Book Review: Alexander McCall Smith and the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series". Dallas Public Library. Retrieved 26 February 2016. 
  3. ^ a b "THE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY Review". Publishers Weekly. 27 August 2002. 
  4. ^ The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency - The TV Series, A book & film review

External links[edit]