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

September 28, 2010

Plot summary (with spoilers): Precious Ramotswe (aka Mma Ramotswe) is a thirty-something divorced woman who decides to use the money she inherits after her father’s death to open a detective agency. She calls it the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency — the first of its kind in Gaborone, or indeed in all of Botswana.

Mma Ramotswe hires a secretary, studies a book called The Principles of Private Detection by Clovis Andersen, and sits back to wait for clients to come. It’s slow going at first, but Mma Ramotswe eventually does get some cases. The cases aren’t the typically exciting fare you’d expect to find in a collection of mystery stories, though. Instead, Mma Ramotswe generally deals with cheating men, petty swindlers, and parents worried about what their teenage daughters are doing. Mma Ramotswe does get one big case, however: she rescues a boy who had been kidnapped for witchcraft purposes.

The stories in the book are only loosely connected, and along the way we learn a great deal about Mma Ramotswe’s background.


  • This book was quick and easy to read for the most part. It did get bogged down in some areas, but I found that when Smith focused on the actual cases, the pages flew by.
  • Mma Ramotswe is a likable character. She does think rather highly of herself and considers herself smarter than those around her, but she actually is, so that’s OK. At least she admits some of her flaws, like being a little overweight, which leads to some musings about how to lose weight fast. Also, she isn’t always right (she was fooled by the teen daughter, after all), which makes me like her all the more.


  • The “mysteries” were hardly mysteries at all. I admit that the cases Mma Ramotswe took fit in with the location and townspeople, but still… they weren’t exactly exciting or terribly interesting. I think this is a series, so hopefully the problem will be addressed in the next book(s).
  • Smith nearly lost me for good when he strayed completely away from Mma Ramotswe and started talking about her father and his time in the mines. I didn’t think it was necessary to tell the reader SO MUCH about the father (he was already dead, after all). I didn’t mind Mma Ramotswe’s background and the stories of her cheating husband, but the stuff about her father was just too boring.

Overall, I thought The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith was a decent enough read. The book has a strong, likable, and believable main character, as well as an exotic locale working in its favor. Having finished this, I’m certainly not opposed to trying another Smith work. I give the book 3 stars out of 5.

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