The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series #1)

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Overview

THE NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY - Book 1

Fans around the world adore the bestselling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the basis of the HBO TV show, and its proprietor Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective.  In this charming series, Mma  Ramotswe navigates her cases and her personal life with wisdom, and good humor—not to mention help from her loyal assistant, Grace Makutsi, ...

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Overview

THE NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY - Book 1

Fans around the world adore the bestselling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the basis of the HBO TV show, and its proprietor Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective.  In this charming series, Mma  Ramotswe navigates her cases and her personal life with wisdom, and good humor—not to mention help from her loyal assistant, Grace Makutsi, and the occasional cup of tea. 

This first novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s widely acclaimed The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series tells the story of the delightfully cunning and enormously engaging Precious Ramotswe, who is drawn to her profession to “help people with problems in their lives.” Immediately upon setting up shop in a small storefront in Gaborone, she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. But the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witchdoctors.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency received two Booker Judges’ Special Recommendations and was voted one of the International Books of the Year and the Millennium by the Times Literary Supplement.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency received two Booker Judges' Special Recommendations and was voted one of the International Books of the Year and the Millennium by the Times Literary Supplement.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
The pantheon of brilliant detectives with great names -- Sherlock Holmes, Nero Wolfe, Sam Spade -- has a new member: Precious Ramotswe. As Botswana’s only female private investigator, Precious finds herself in some exotic situations -- flirting with wayward husbands in the Go Go Handsome Man’s Bar one minute, confronting witch doctors about missing boys the next. But cases and solutions here are only half the fun. Author Alexander McCall Smith, the leading authority on Botswana’s constitutional law, writes with such beautiful simplicity, he may actually give lawyers a good name. His slice of Africa is vividly rendered with an appropriately dry wit and an almost Dickensian array of characters, from the upstanding mechanic Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni to Precious’s humble assistant, Mna Makutsi, to an assortment of cocky con men and frauds. Precious, meanwhile, is one of the most original private detectives ever put to page: a bright, fallible woman who gets duped romantically and on the job but bursts with compassion for everything in her path -- especially Africa. Fans of transportive, literary mysteries have a reason to ululate. Loudly. Seth Kaufman
From the Publisher
“The Miss Marple of Botswana.” –The New York Times Book Review

“Smart and sassy...Precious’ progress is charted in passages that have the power to amuse or shock or touch the heart, sometimes all at once.” –Los Angeles Times

“The author’s prose has the merits of simplicity, euphony and precision. His descriptions leave one as if standing in the Botswana landscape. This is art that conceals art. I haven’t read anything with such alloyed pleasure for a long time.” –Anthony Daniels, The Sunday Telegraph

Publishers Weekly
The African-born author of more than 50 books, from children's stories (The Perfect Hamburger) to scholarly works (Forensic Aspects of Sleep), turns his talents to detection in this artful, pleasing novel about Mma (aka Precious) Ramotswe, Botswana's one and only lady private detective. A series of vignettes linked to the establishment and growth of Mma Ramotswe's "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" serve not only to entertain but to explore conditions in Botswana in a way that is both penetrating and light thanks to Smith's deft touch. Mma Ramotswe's cases come slowly and hesitantly at first: women who suspect their husbands are cheating on them; a father worried that his daughter is sneaking off to see a boy; a missing child who may have been killed by witchdoctors to make medicine; a doctor who sometimes seems highly competent and sometimes seems to know almost nothing about medicine. The desultory pace 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. (Aug. 27) FYI: Anchor is simultaneously issuing two other titles in this series, Tears of the Giraffe and Morality for Beautiful Girls.
Kirkus Reviews
Botswana's only female detective, Precious Ramotswe-whose investigation of whether the father who's incontinently turned up on the doorstep of Happy Bapetsi, who's been getting along fine without him, is really her father edges her toward considerably darker waters-isn't just ready to confront everything from theft to kidnapping to murder: she's ready for prime time. The first American publication of this 1999 debut has been preceded by two special Booker citations and two sequels, Tears of the Giraffe (2000) and Morality for Beautiful Girls (2001), both forthcoming in the series. Film rights to Jo'burg Filmed Entertainment
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400034772
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 2/6/2003
  • Series: No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Series , #1
  • Edition description: Today Show Book Club Anchor Edition
  • Pages: 256
  • Sales rank: 65,258
  • Product dimensions: 5.17 (w) x 7.99 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith is a professor of medical law at Edinburgh University. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and taught law at the University of Botswana. He is the author of over fifty books on a wide range of subjects, including specialist titles such as Forensic Aspects of Sleep and The Criminal Law of Botswana, children's books such as The Perfect Hamburger, and a collection of stories called Portuguese Irregular Verbs.

Biography

Alexander McCall Smith was born in Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia) and went to school in Bulawayo, near the Botswana border. Although he moved to Scotland to attend college and eventually settled in Edinburgh, he always felt drawn to southern Africa and taught law for a while at the University of Botswana. He has written a book on the criminal law of Botswana, and among his successful children's books is a collection of African folk tales, Children of Wax.

Eventually, Smith had an urge to write a novel about a woman who would embody the qualities he admired in the people of Botswana, and the result, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, was a surprise hit, receiving two special Booker citations and a place on the Times Literary Supplement's International Books of the Year and the Millennium list. "The author's prose has the merits of simplicity, euphony and precision," Anthony Daniels wrote in the Sunday Telegraph. "His descriptions leave one as if standing in the Botswanan landscape. This is art that conceals art. I haven't read anything with such unalloyed pleasure for a long time."

Despite the book's success in the U.K., American publishers were slow to take an interest, and by the time The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was picked up by Pantheon Books, Smith had already written two sequels. The books went from underground hits to national phenomena in the United States, spawning fan clubs and inspiring celebratory reviews. Smith is also the author of a detective series featuring the insatiably curious philosopher Isabel Dalhousie and the 44 Scotland Street novels, which present a witty portrait of Edinburgh society

In an interview on the publisher's web site, Smith says he thinks the country of Botswana "particularly chimes with many of the values which Americans feel very strongly about -- respect for the rule of law and for individual freedom. I hope that readers will also see in these portrayals of Botswana some of the great traditional virtues in Africa -- in particular, courtesy and a striking natural dignity."

Good To Know

As a professor at Edinburgh Law School, Smith specializes in criminal law and medical law, and has written about the legal and ethical aspects of euthanasia, medical research, and medical practice.

When he isn't writing books or teaching, Smith finds time to play the bassoon in the candidly named amateur ensemble he co-founded, The Really Terrible Orchestra.

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Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

The Daddy

Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill. These were its assets: a tiny white van, two desks, two chairs, a telephone, and an old typewriter. Then there was a teapot, in which Mma Ramotswe—the only lady private detective in Botswana—brewed redbush tea. And three mugs—one for herself, one for her secretary, and one for the client. What else does a detective agency really need? Detective agencies rely on human intuition and intelligence, both of which Mma Ramotswe had in abundance. No inventory would ever include those, of course.

But there was also the view, which again could appear on no inventory. How could any such list describe what one saw when one looked out from Mma Ramotswe's door? To the front, an acacia tree, the thorn tree which dots the wide edges of the Kalahari; the great white thorns, a warning; the olive-grey leaves, by contrast, so delicate. In its branches, in the late afternoon, or in the cool of the early morning, one might see a Go-Away Bird, or hear it, rather. And beyond the acacia, over the dusty road, the roofs of the town under a cover of trees and scrub bush; on the horizon, in a blue shimmer of heat, the hills, like improbable, overgrown termite mounds.

Everybody called her Mma Ramotswe, although if people had wanted to be formal, they would have addressed her as Mme Mma Ramotswe. This is the right thing for a person of stature, but which she had never used of herself. So it was always Mma Ramotswe, rather than Precious Ramotswe, a name which very few people employed.

She was a good detective, and a good woman. A good woman in a good country, one might say. She loved her country, Botswana, which is a place of peace, and she loved Africa, for all its trials. I am not ashamed to be called an African patriot, said Mma Ramotswe. I love all the people whom God made, but I especially know how to love the people who live in this place. They are my people, my brothers and sisters. It is my duty to help them to solve the mysteries in their lives. That is what I am called to do.

In idle moments, when there were no pressing matters to be dealt with, and when everybody seemed to be sleepy from the heat, she would sit under her acacia tree. It was a dusty place to sit, and the chickens would occasionally come and peck about her feet, but it was a place which seemed to encourage thought. It was here that Mma Ramotswe would contemplate some of the issues which, in everyday life, may so easily be pushed to one side.

Everything, thought Mma Ramotswe, has been something before. Here I am, the only lady private detective in the whole of Botswana, sitting in front of my detective agency. But only a few years ago there was no detective agency, and before that, before there were even any buildings here, there were just the acacia trees, and the riverbed in the distance, and the Kalahari over there, so close.

In those days there was no Botswana even, just the Bechuanaland Protectorate, and before that again there was Khama's Country, and lions with the dry wind in their manes. But look at it now: a detective agency, right here in Gaborone, with me, the fat lady detective, sitting outside and thinking these thoughts about how what is one thing today becomes quite another thing tomorrow.

Mma Ramotswe set up the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency with the proceeds of the sale of her father's cattle. He had owned a big herd, and had no other children; so every single beast, all one hundred and eighty of them, including the white Brahmin bulls whose grandparents he had bred himself, went to her. The cattle were moved from the cattle post, back to Mochudi where they waited, in the dust, under the eyes of the chattering herd boys, until the livestock agent came.

They fetched a good price, as there had been heavy rains that year, and the grass had been lush. Had it been the year before, when most of that southern part of Africa had been wracked by drought, it would have been a different matter. People had dithered then, wanting to hold on to their cattle, as without your cattle you were naked; others, feeling more desperate, sold, because the rains had failed year after year and they had seen the animals become thinner and thinner. Mma Ramotswe was pleased that her father's illness had prevented his making any decision, as now the price had gone up and those who had held on were well rewarded.

"I want you to have your own business," he said to her on his death bed. "You'll get a good price for the cattle now. Sell them and buy a business. A butchery maybe. A bottle store. Whatever you like."

She held her father's hand and looked into the eyes of the man she loved beyond all others, her Daddy, her wise Daddy, whose lungs had been filled with dust in those mines and who had scrimped and saved to make life good for her.

It was difficult to talk through her tears, but she managed to say: "I'm going to set up a detective agency. Down in Gaborone. It will be the best one in Botswana. The No. 1 Agency."

For a moment her father's eyes opened wide and it seemed as if he was struggling to speak.

"But . . . but . . ."

But he died before he could say anything more, and Mma Ramotswe fell on his chest and wept for all the dignity, love and suffering that died with him.

She had a sign painted in bright colours, which was then set up just off the Lobatse Road, on the edge of town, pointing to the small building she had purchased: the no. 1 ladies' detective agency. for all confidential matters and enquiries. satisfaction guaranteed for all parties. under personal management.

There was considerable public interest in the setting up of her agency. There was an interview on Radio Botswana, in which she thought she was rather rudely pressed to reveal her qualifications, and a rather more satisfactory article in The Botswana News, which drew attention to the fact that she was the only lady private detective in the country. This article was cut out, copied, and placed prominently on a small board beside the front door of the agency.

After a slow start, she was rather surprised to find that her services were in considerable demand. She was consulted about missing husbands, about the creditworthiness of potential business partners, and about suspected fraud by employees. In almost every case, she was able to come up with at least some information for the client; when she could not, she waived her fee, which meant that virtually nobody who consulted her was dissatisfied. People in Botswana liked to talk, she discovered, and the mere mention of the fact that she was a private detective would let loose a positive outpouring of information on all sorts of subjects. It flattered people, she concluded, to be approached by a private detective, and this effectively loosened their tongues. This happened with Happy Bapetsi, one of her earlier clients. Poor Happy! To have lost your daddy and then found him, and then lost him again . . .

"I used to have a happy life," said Happy Bapetsi. "A very happy life. Then this thing happened, and I can't say that any- more."

Mma Ramotswe watched her client as she sipped her bush tea. Everything you wanted to know about a person was written in the face, she believed. It's not that she believed that the shape of the head was what counted—even if there were many who still clung to that belief; it was more a question of taking care to scrutinise the lines and the general look. And the eyes, of course; they were very important. The eyes allowed you to see right into a person, to penetrate their very essence, and that was why people with something to hide wore sunglasses indoors. They were the ones you had to watch very carefully.

Now this Happy Bapetsi was intelligent; that was immediately apparent. She also had few worries—this was shown by the fact that there were no lines on her face, other than smile lines of course. So it was man trouble, thought Mma Ramotswe. Some man has turned up and spoilt everything, destroying her happiness with his bad behaviour.

"Let me tell you a little about myself first," said Happy Bapetsi. "I come from Maun, you see, right up on the Okavango. My mother had a small shop and I lived with her in the house at the back. We had lots of chickens and we were very happy.

"My mother told me that my Daddy had left a long time ago, when I was still a little baby. He had gone off to work in Bulawayo and he had never come back. Somebody had written to us—another Motswana living there—to say that he thought that my Daddy was dead, but he wasn't sure. He said that he had gone to see somebody at Mpilo Hospital one day and as he was walking along a corridor he saw them wheeling somebody out on a stretcher and that the dead person on the stretcher looked remarkably like my Daddy. But he couldn't be certain.

"So we decided that he was probably dead, but my mother did not mind a great deal because she had never really liked him very much. And of course I couldn't even remember him, so it did not make much difference to me.

"I went to school in Maun at a place run by some Catholic missionaries. One of them discovered that I could do arithmetic rather well and he spent a lot of time helping me. He said that he had never met a girl who could count so well.

"I suppose it was very odd. I could see a group of figures and I would just remember it. Then I would find that I had added the figures in my head, even without thinking about it. It just came very easily—I didn't have to work at it at all.

"I did very well in my exams and at the end of the day I went off to Gaborone and learned how to be a bookkeeper. Again it was very simple for me; I could look at a whole sheet of figures and understand it immediately. Then, the next day, I could remember every figure exactly and write them all down if I needed to.

"I got a job in the bank and I was given promotion after promotion. Now I am the No. 1 subaccountant and I don't think I can go any further because all the men are worried that I'll make them look stupid. But I don't mind. I get very good pay and I can finish all my work by three in the afternoon, sometimes earlier. I go shopping after that. I have a nice house with four rooms and I am very happy. To have all that by the time you are thirty-eight is good enough, I think."

Mma Ramotswe smiled. "That is all very interesting. You're right. You've done well."

"I'm very lucky," said Happy Bapetsi. "But then this thing happened. My Daddy arrived at the house."

Mma Ramotswe drew in her breath. She had not expected this; she had thought it would be a boyfriend problem. Fathers were a different matter altogether.

"He just knocked on the door," said Happy Bapetsi. "It was a Saturday afternoon and I was taking a rest on my bed when I heard his knocking. I got up, went to the door, and there was this man, about sixty or so, standing there with his hat in his hands. He told me that he was my Daddy, and that he had been living in Bulawayo for a long time but was now back in Botswana and had come to see me.

"You can understand how shocked I was. I had to sit down, or I think I would have fainted. In the meantime, he spoke. He told me my mother's name, which was correct, and he said that he was sorry that he hadn't been in touch before. Then he asked if he could stay in one of the spare rooms, as he had nowhere else to go.

"I said that of course he could. In a way I was very excited to see my Daddy and I thought that it would be good to be able to make up for all those lost years and to have him staying with me, particularly since my poor mother died. So I made a bed for him in one of the rooms and cooked him a large meal of steak and potatoes, which he ate very quickly. Then he asked for more.

"That was about three months ago. Since then, he has been living in that room and I have been doing all the work for him. I make his breakfast, cook him some lunch, which I leave in the kitchen, and then make his supper at night. I buy him one bottle of beer a day and have also bought him some new clothes and a pair of good shoes. All he does is sit in his chair outside the front door and tell me what to do for him next."

"Many men are like that," interrupted Mma Ramotswe.

Happy Bapetsi nodded. "This one is especially like that. He has not washed a single cooking pot since he arrived and I have been getting very tired running after him. He also spends a lot of my money on vitamin pills and biltong.

"I would not resent this, you know, except for one thing. I do not think that he is my real Daddy. I have no way of proving this, but I think that this man is an impostor and that he heard about our family from my real Daddy before he died and is now just pretending. I think he is a man who has been looking for a retirement home and who is very pleased because he has found a good one."

Mma Ramotswe found herself staring in frank wonderment at Happy Bapetsi. There was no doubt but that she was telling the truth; what astonished her was the effrontery, the sheer, naked effrontery of men. How dare this person come and impose on this helpful, happy person! What a piece of chicanery, of fraud! What a piece of outright theft in fact!

"Can you help me?" asked Happy Bapetsi. "Can you find out whether this man is really my Daddy? If he is, then I will be a dutiful daughter and put up with him. If he is not, then I should prefer for him to go somewhere else."

Mma Ramotswe did not hesitate. "I'll find out," she said. "It may take me a day or two, but I'll find out!"

Of course, it was easier said than done. There were blood tests these days, but she doubted very much whether this person would agree to that. No, she would have to try something more subtle, something that would show beyond any argument whether he was the Daddy or not. She stopped in her line of thought. Yes! There was something biblical about this story. What, she thought, would Solomon have done?

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Table of Contents

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Introduction

“The Miss Marple of Botswana.” –The New York Times Book Review

The introduction, discussion questions, suggested reading list, and author biography that follow are designed to enhance your group’s discussion of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, the acclaimed novel that introduces Precious Ramotswe, one of the most unique and appealing characters in the entire mystery genre.

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Foreword

1. Unlike in most other mysteries, in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Mma Ramotswe solves a number of small crimes, rather than a single major one. How does this affect the narrative pacing of the novel? What other unique features distinguish The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency from the conventional mystery novel?

2. What makes Precious Ramotswe such a charming protagonist? What kind of woman is she? How is she different from the usual detective? Why does she feel “called” to help her fellow Africans “solve the mysteries of their lives” [p. 4]?

3. What is surprising about the nature of the cases Mma Ramotswe is hired to solve? By what means does Alexander McCall Smith sustain the reader’s interest, in the absence of the kind of tension, violence, and suspense that drive most mysteries?

4. Mma Ramotswe’s first client, Happy Bapetsi, is worried that the man who claims to be her father is a fraud taking advantage of her generosity. “All he does,” she says, “is sit in his chair outside the front door and tell me what to do for him next.” To which Mma Ramotswe replies, “Many men are like that” [p. 10]. What is Mma Ramotswe’s view of men generally? How do men behave in the novel?

5. Why does Mma Ramotswe feel it is so important to include her father’s life story in the novel? What does Obed Ramotswe’s life reveal about the history of Africa and of South Africa? What does it reveal about the nature and cost of working in the mines in South Africa?

6. Mma Ramotswe purchases a manual on how to be a detective. It advises one to pay attention tohunches. “Hunches are another form of knowledge” [p. 79]. How does intuition help Mma Ramotswe solve her cases?

7. When Mma Ramotswe decides to start a detective agency, a lawyer tells her “It’s easy to lose money in business, especially when you don’t know anything about what you’re doing. . . . And anyway, can women be detectives?” To which Mma Ramotswe answers, “Women are the ones who know what’s going on. They are the ones with eyes. Have you not read Agatha Christie?” [p. 61]. Is she right in suggesting women are more perceptive than men? Where in the novel do we see Mma Ramotswe’s own extraordinary powers of observation? How does she comically undercut the lawyer’s arrogance in this scene?

8. As Mma Ramotswe wonders if Mma Malatsi was somehow involved in her husband’s death and whether wanting someone dead made one a murderer in God’s eyes, she thinks to herself: “It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you a reason for going on. Pumpkin” [p. 85]. What philosophy of life is Mma Ramotswe articulating here? Why do the ongoing daily events of life give her this sense of peace and stability?

9. Why does Mma Ramotswe marry Note? Why does this act seem so out of character for her? In what ways does her love for an attractive and physically abusive man make her a deeper and more complicated character? How does her marriage to Note change her?

10. Mma Ramotswe imagines retiring back in Mochudi, buying some land with her cousins, growing melons, and living life in such a way that “every morning she could sit in front of her house and sniff at the wood-smoke and look forward to spending the day talking with her friends. How sorry she felt for white people, who couldn’t do any of this, and who were always dashing around and worrying themselves over things that were going to happen anyway. What use was it having all that money if you could never sit still or just watch your cattle eating grass? None, in her view; none at all” [p. 162]. Is Mma Ramotswe’s critique of white people on the mark or is she stereotyping? What makes her sense of what is important, and what brings happiness, so refreshing? What other differences between black and white cultures does the novel make apparent?

11. Mma Ramotswe does not want Africa to change, to become thoroughly modern: “She did not want her people to become like everybody else, soulless, selfish, forgetful of what it means to be an African, or, worse still, ashamed of Africa” [p. 215]. But what aspects of traditional African culture trouble her? How does she regard the traditional African attitude toward women, marriage, family duty, and witchcraft? Is there a contradiction in her relationship to “old” Africa?

12. How surprising is Mme Ramotswe’s response to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s marriage proposal? How appropriate is the ending of the novel?

13. Alexander McCall Smith has both taught and written about criminal law. In what ways does in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency draw upon this knowledge? How are lawyers and the police characterized in the novel?

14. Is in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency a feminist novel? Does the fact that its author is a man complicate such a reading? How well does Alexander McCall Smith represent a woman’s character and consciousness in Mma Ramotswe?

15. Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe books have been praised for their combination of apparent simplicity with a high degree of sophistication. In what ways does in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency have the appeal of simple storytelling? In what ways is it sophisticated? What does it suggest about the larger issues of how to live one’s life, how to behave in society, how to be happy?

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Reading Group Guide

1. Unlike in most other mysteries, in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Mma Ramotswe solves a number of small crimes, rather than a single major one. How does this affect the narrative pacing of the novel? What other unique features distinguish The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency from the conventional mystery novel?

2. What makes Precious Ramotswe such a charming protagonist? What kind of woman is she? How is she different from the usual detective? Why does she feel “called” to help her fellow Africans “solve the mysteries of their lives” [p. 4]?

3. What is surprising about the nature of the cases Mma Ramotswe is hired to solve? By what means does Alexander McCall Smith sustain the reader’s interest, in the absence of the kind of tension, violence, and suspense that drive most mysteries?

4. Mma Ramotswe’s first client, Happy Bapetsi, is worried that the man who claims to be her father is a fraud taking advantage of her generosity. “All he does,” she says, “is sit in his chair outside the front door and tell me what to do for him next.” To which Mma Ramotswe replies, “Many men are like that” [p. 10]. What is Mma Ramotswe’s view of men generally? How do men behave in the novel?

5. Why does Mma Ramotswe feel it is so important to include her father’s life story in the novel? What does Obed Ramotswe’s life reveal about the history of Africa and of South Africa? What does it reveal about the nature and cost of working in the mines in South Africa?

6. Mma Ramotswe purchases a manual on how to be a detective. It advises one to pay attention to hunches. “Hunches are another form of knowledge” [p. 79]. How does intuition help Mma Ramotswe solve her cases?

7. When Mma Ramotswe decides to start a detective agency, a lawyer tells her “It’s easy to lose money in business, especially when you don’t know anything about what you’re doing. . . . And anyway, can women be detectives?” To which Mma Ramotswe answers, “Women are the ones who know what’s going on. They are the ones with eyes. Have you not read Agatha Christie?” [p. 61]. Is she right in suggesting women are more perceptive than men? Where in the novel do we see Mma Ramotswe’s own extraordinary powers of observation? How does she comically undercut the lawyer’s arrogance in this scene?

8. As Mma Ramotswe wonders if Mma Malatsi was somehow involved in her husband’s death and whether wanting someone dead made one a murderer in God’s eyes, she thinks to herself: “It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you a reason for going on. Pumpkin” [p. 85]. What philosophy of life is Mma Ramotswe articulating here? Why do the ongoing daily events of life give her this sense of peace and stability?

9. Why does Mma Ramotswe marry Note? Why does this act seem so out of character for her? In what ways does her love for an attractive and physically abusive man make her a deeper and more complicated character? How does her marriage to Note change her?

10. Mma Ramotswe imagines retiring back in Mochudi, buying some land with her cousins, growing melons, and living life in such a way that “every morning she could sit in front of her house and sniff at the wood-smoke and look forward to spending the day talking with her friends. How sorry she felt for white people, who couldn’t do any of this, and who were always dashing around and worrying themselves over things that were going to happen anyway. What use was it having all that money if you could never sit still or just watch your cattle eating grass? None, in her view; none at all” [p. 162]. Is Mma Ramotswe’s critique of white people on the mark or is she stereotyping? What makes her sense of what is important, and what brings happiness, so refreshing? What other differences between black and white cultures does the novel make apparent?

11. Mma Ramotswe does not want Africa to change, to become thoroughly modern: “She did not want her people to become like everybody else, soulless, selfish, forgetful of what it means to be an African, or, worse still, ashamed of Africa” [p. 215]. But what aspects of traditional African culture trouble her? How does she regard the traditional African attitude toward women, marriage, family duty, and witchcraft? Is there a contradiction in her relationship to “old” Africa?

12. How surprising is Mme Ramotswe’s response to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s marriage proposal? How appropriate is the ending of the novel?

13. Alexander McCall Smith has both taught and written about criminal law. In what ways does in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency draw upon this knowledge? How are lawyers and the police characterized in the novel?

14. Is in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency a feminist novel? Does the fact that its author is a man complicate such a reading? How well does Alexander McCall Smith represent a woman’s character and consciousness in Mma Ramotswe?

15. Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe books have been praised for their combination of apparent simplicity with a high degree of sophistication. In what ways does in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency have the appeal of simple storytelling? In what ways is it sophisticated? What does it suggest about the larger issues of how to live one’s life, how to behave in society, how to be happy?

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 938 )
Rating Distribution

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(274)

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(199)

2 Star

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 946 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 30, 2010

    Different style, but it grows on you

    The writing seems a little disjointed at first, but after a while you get used to the style and the series of short anecdotes. The book gives insight into life and tradition in some parts of Africa. While there aren't any what you'd call belly laughs, there is humor throughout the book, a lot of human nature both good and bad, and many small mysteries instead of one or two big ones like in the more conventional mysteries we're used to. A good read once you adapt to the style.

    14 out of 14 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 13, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    DIFFERENT AND APPEALING

    A compelling book that whisks you away to a faraway land and lets you peek into a different culture. I really enjoyed the setting and the way the local culture and proctocol were defined. Having read another reivew, I was always on the lookout for the "man bashing" parts. I have to admit there was a tendency to generalize men and their "bad" habits, but it was not so much offensive as it was quirky. I have to remember that this tendency to mistrust men came from the heroine's background and history. Funny; sweet; and sad all at the same time. A quick read and I will most certainly look for and read other books by this author. Surprised that this was a male author.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 25, 2010

    A fun and entertaining read

    I wasn't sure what to expect, but the description of the book sounded intriguing so I bought it for my Nook. The best word to describe the book is "quirky", but in a good way. The writing style was not typical and the characters had an interesting way of conveying what they wanted to say without actually saying it. I had not heard of the series before, but I plan on reading the rest of the books in the series and I have added the HBO television series to my Netflix queue as well.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 20, 2010

    The Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

    This book had me hooked from the first page and I could hardly put it down. I love the characters and am amazed at how well Alexander McCall Smith can be Mma Ramotswe's voice. There is a strong moral theme of good triumphing over evil in this book and subsequent ones in the series. I enthusiastically recommend this book.

    4 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 17, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    One of the Best

    I can't say enough about The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Extremely well written in a charming and enthralling manor this book makes Botswana come alive. I could feel the African heat as I was wiping Botswana dust from my forehead. Character development is superb. Mr. Smith pulls you into the lives of his well crafted characters until they almost seem like best friends and family. There are wonderful insights into human nature and positive moral overtones. Well worth reading! Get it!

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 31, 2010

    No. 1 Best New Series

    They should create a new genre just for this series. We could call it the African Cozy. This is just made for light reading while lounging in your lawn chair and perhaps dozing off occasionally. It's easy to continue the thread of the story whenever you pick up your book again.
    No heavy lifting here. Just plain relaxing enjoyment.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 26, 2010

    Into Africa

    What a totally charming book. McCall Smith takes you into African life with this unassuming narrative. I can't wait to get hold of the next one. A great rainyday read.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 22, 2011

    Great

    So glad this was a free read! Going to buy the next in the series for sure!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted February 7, 2011

    Highly recommended

    This is a pleasant book, suitable for all audiences, and easy to read. Also hard to put down. I have read all of the books in this series and thoroughly enjoyed the adventures presented in a lighthearted manner.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 6, 2009

    A combination of common sense, smarts, and a good heart make Mma Ramotswe one of my favorite all-time characters.

    This book is not only entertaining but informative. Precious Ramotswe looks at crime from a unique standpoint. Her cultural heritage and the fact that she is a female in a nontraditional career, allows the reader to "solve" crimes in a manner not necessarily bound by the usual law-and-order perspective. Rather, Mma solves such problems in a human manner. Punishment is not the order of the day if retribution can be managed. Mma's solutions are unique and fitting to the crime. The supporting characters are fascinating, humorous, and real people.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted January 30, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Great read, even better on audio book...HBO series coming in March!

    Very good book, Mr. McCall has made a masterpiece... This book can make you cry and laugh. Set in an African country, this book comes alive. Cant wait for the series.... starring Jill Scott, one of the greats R&B, Neo-soul singers songwriters of all time.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 27, 2008

    Ok book

    I read the book The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McMcall Smith. No, i did not enjoy reading this book. This book wasn't a positive experience for me because it did not help me in any way. This book was confusing and i didnt feel that this book had any point at all. The only thing that i really like about this book was it gave great descriptions for the setting. Other than that i thought that it was an ok book, but not one of the best i have ever read. In the No. 1 ladies detective agency there were not many characters at all compaired to other books tha i have read. Yes, i thought that the characters were interesting and believeable. If i had to pick a character from this book i would choose Mma Ramotswe.I liked this character because i thought that she was very jenerous, kind, and helpful to the people that she wanted to help out. Yes, i thought that the author did a good job of creating the character because the author mad the character have a good personality traits and he did a great job of creating her. I feel that the author was not able to hold my interist through out the entire novel. I didnt feel that the author did this because it should be one of those, 'I neverwant to put it down book.' This type of book however was a book that i never even wanted to pick it up. If the author whould have been more interisting i would have wanted to read it more often. In conclusion i didnt feel that this was a very good book to read. I didnt feel that i learned anything this book. No, i didnt feel that i gained anything from reading this book either. No, i would not reccomend this book to a friend. i would not reccomend this book because i feel that it had no point to it and was boring. I also wouldnt reccomend this book because i wouldnt want them to go through the same thing that i had to go through.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 20, 2007

    no.1 ladies detective agency review

    This book was o.k. What I did like was how when there was a plot, the author went into pretty good detail. What I didn't like was how it is talking about something, then the next chapter doesn't exactly start where it left off, it starts on a different subject.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 4, 2014

    Recommended!

    Very pleasant story - good plot, interesting, informative. Made me look forward to the rest of the series.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted July 4, 2014

    Would not recommend this.

    I found the description of the country quite interesting, the actual detective story was very disappointing!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 30, 2014

    Fun read

    Looking forward to getting to know everyone better in the series

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 24, 2014

    Sweet

    Nice light reading. Great for sitting outside with a glass of tea.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 9, 2014

    Fun and exciting

    Reading this book was fun to learn about Africa and the different people and customs. I really like Mma Ramotswe and Rra Matekoni

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted January 6, 2014

    Great book....sort of an aesopes tales for adults.  Great little

    Great book....sort of an aesopes tales for adults.  Great little cleaver strories about  the no.1 lady detective

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2013

    Cute

    It is definitely a series that I will keep reading. Some parts move kind of slow, but still a great read.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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