Book Review: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
Alexander McCall Smith

Rating: 5 out of 5.

If you haven’t read The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and you’re looking for a nice, heart-warming mystery, I highly recommend this book, the first in a series of twenty-two novels, set in Botswana, Africa. I read it when it was first published in 1998 and have just re-read it for my mystery book club at work.

When Mma (pronounced “Ma”) Precious Ramotswe’s father, Obed lay on his deathbed, he told her to sell his cattle and buy a business to support herself. He’d suggested a butchery or a bottle store, but instead, Precious sets up the only women’s detective agency in all of Botswana. Precious is thirty-four when she hangs up a brightly-colored shingle outside her newly-acquired office. She buys two desks and two chairs, connects a telephone and hires a secretary. And Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, eager to help, donates an old typewriter from his nearby business.

The lawyer who handles the sale of her father’s cattle is skeptical. “It’s easy to lose money in business,” he warns her. “Especially when you don’t know anything about what you’re doing…And anyway, can women be detectives?”

Her answer? “Women are the ones who know what’s going on. They are the ones with the eyes. Have you not heard of Agatha Christie?”

Precious may not have prior experience, but she’s a woman with excellent hunches and a sense of justice.

It doesn’t take long for her services to be in demand. She shrewdly uncovers imposters, cheaters, and swindlers and uses clever charm to teach them lessons they won’t forget. One case, however, about a missing boy, dogs her, and uncovers the dark side of witchcraft and human sacrifice in Botswana.

As she solves each case, we get to know Precious and learn about her past, including a short-lived marriage and a painful loss. We also learn about her father’s life in the South African diamond mines. Above all, readers understand the deep love and pride she has for Botswana, a country which, in 1885, was established as a protectorate by the United Kingdom and in 1966 became an independent republic.

This charming story is also not without a little romance, which the author sets up nicely to continue in the next book.

In our continuous quest to find great new books, we lose sight of the great ones we’ve missed. Even though I read it in 1998, I’d forgotten all about how much I enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to catching up on the rest. Have you read this series? Have you watched the BBC series which first aired in 2008? Leave a comment and tell me what you think!

Thanks for visiting – come back soon!

49 thoughts on “Book Review: The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith

  1. I didn’t know about the BBC series. I’ll have to check it out. I wonder if I should re-read the book first, because I’m pretty sure I remember reading it, but I don’t recall any details. Thanks for the reminder and tips!

  2. It seems as though I know Precious from Alexander McCall Smith’s other books. He has a unique style, and I always feel charmed by what I call his “mystery-lite” style of writing. Great review, Barbara! 😀

  3. Well, I read one of these books and frankly, I wasn’t overly impressed. The mystery was too easy to figure out, and the ending felt rushed and… well… trite, to be honest. But yes, they are good, clean fun books. Just not my cup of tea (perhaps because I’m a coffee drinker)!

    1. Hi Davida – thanks for your honest take on these books. They are simple, but I enjoyed this one because I liked Precious’s character so much and also the setting. Hope you are doing well! I’m loving your Instagram posts – they are very creative 🙂

    1. My mystery book club met last week and several members had seen the series and thought it was great. I’m going to see if I can find it online. Thanks for the visit, JT!

    1. Hi Noelle – although I’ve only read one of them, I do recommend at least the first one. Precious is a great character and the setting is indeed unique. Thank you for stopping by 🙂

  4. Thanks for the review! I heard of the series way back but never got around to reading one. Recently I picked one up at a library book sale but have not gotten around to reading it. Sounds like a feel-good read that I need sometimes. For some reason the location always put me off.

    1. Definitely a feel-good read. Sometimes it’s hard to read a book set in an unfamiliar place, but the setting in Botswana was wonderfully portrayed. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  5. I read so many of these books, Barbara (but I don’t think 22) and loved them. I read a few others of his series too. He’s easy to read.

    1. Hi Ally Bean! Thank you for stopping by – I’m wondering why I never picked up the series after the first book. I plan to work it into my future reading, although I admit, a long series is a bit of a turnoff for me. Hope you are doing well!

  6. Hi, Barbara – Thank you for sharing the first book in this series and giving a great summary of the backstory. I recently read the last book in the series as a standalone and felt that I was missing much by reading in this way.

    1. Hi Donna – oh that’s interesting! The only thing about series is that it’s hard to commit to such a long succession of books. Some series do well as standalones. I’m thinking of Louise Penny’s books. Thank you for stopping by and commenting 🙂

  7. One of My favourite series. I’ve read 13 of the books. Must read the rest. I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting the author. A delightful man.

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