Review

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

by Alexander McCall Smith

When Precious Ramotswe decides to use the money her beloved father left her to open the first ever Ladies' Detective Agency in Botswana, everyone is skeptical. "Can women be detectives?" asks the bank's lawyer. Mma Ramotswe herself feels unsure of her success. After all, her only assets are a tiny white van, two desks, two chairs, a telephone, an old typewriter, a teapot, and three teacups. But she does possess the intangible assets of intuition and intelligence. These she has in great supply, along with perseverance, a keen knowledge of the human mind and heart, a steadfast sense of right and wrong, and a personality that inspires trust and loquaciousness in nearly all who meet her. What she also has is a deep love for Africa generally and for Botswana and its people especially. "They are my people, my brothers and sisters. It is my duty to help them to solve the mysteries of their lives. That is what I am called to do" [p. 4].

These mysteries aren't the standard stuff of detective novels. There are no bludgeoned millionaires or murdered sexpots in THE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY. Mma Ramotswe's cases range from exposing a freeloader posing as a father, to discovering whether or not a young Indian girl has a boyfriend, to determining the legitimacy of a worker's injury claim, to revealing the real reason behind a doctor's inconsistent performance. Mundane concerns, by the standards of most American mysteries, but much of the charm of THE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY lies in just this quality of ordinariness—the problems that ordinary people confront in the course of their everyday lives. The threat of something more violent, more sinister, appears when a young boy goes missing and Mma Ramotswe suspects he has fallen victim to witch doctors. This crime will bring Mma Ramotswe face-to-face with one of Africa's most frightful traditions—the use of human bones in the making of muti (medicine).

Throughout, readers are treated to Mma Ramotswe's penetrating observations on human behavior—"It was curious how some people had a highly developed sense of guilt, she thought, while others had none. Some people would agonize over minor slips or mistakes on their part, while others would feel quite unmoved by their own gross acts of betrayal or dishonesty" [p. 125]—as well as her trenchant and often humorous assessments of the failings of men, her unflinching struggle for gender equity, her keen love for her country and its people, and the warmth, generosity, and intelligence of her expansive spirit.

Reviewed by on September 1, 2002

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency
by Alexander McCall Smith

  • Publication Date: March 10, 2009
  • Genres: Mystery
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 0307456633
  • ISBN-13: 9780307456632