Jill Scott In The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Jill Scott is perfect as Ma Precious Ramotswe in the HBO series.
Jill Scott is perfect as Ma Precious Ramotswe in the HBO series. | Source

In Africa With Lady Detectives

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was an intriguing title, but as I did with The Cat Who... mysteries by Lilian Jackson Braun, I let the opportunity to read Alexander McCall's series pass until a few years later. Having mended that oversight, I feel that the McCall Smith series will be good coming after good, not allowing me to settle on a favorite.

The Cat Who...series has a few blinding gems among the stories that I will re-read every year; but when I reach the last MCCall book, I will start over at the beginning and continue to read anew. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency has the sort of gentle, uplifting impact on the reader at Star TrekĀ®: The Voyage Home in 1986 has on the film viewer. It is the one film That I could watch every day and No. 1 is the book that I could read daily without end of days.

After deciding to read the book, each time I visited the library, all of the copies were checked out, so I surmised it to be a popular and well-read title. This was exciting. Purchasing this first book in the series was out of the question, given ythe enormous numbers of books I'd received in quick succession to review, along with numerous films as well. My rooms were being taken over by such media.

Some entries made excellent surprise gifts for friends that wanted to read or view these works, but the remaining avalanche of words still left little room for maneuvering. The cat liked to hide among the stacks, just a Braun's character Koko had loved to do. But rather than knocking a book from a shelf to present a clue to his amateur detective owner, today's cat used the stacks to stay warm and to hide himself until he wished to jump out and startle me with - I swear - a cat laugh. The cat must have been reading the Koko chronicles, with a little Garfield comics thrown in for dessert.

In Botswana

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See Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose

Traditional Country Lifestyles

Please read The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. McCall Smith was born in Africa, a beautiful natural place - Botswana (also named Zimbabwe for a time and the Kalahari desert) just to the north of South Africa. His descriptions of the country and nearby nations have further convinced me of the beauty of the continent, as had that of acquaintances in childhood that had sent me lovely picture Christmas cards from South Africa. I can see the gazelles leaping aross the grassy plains before a mountain range among some glitter as I write.

The book describes post-World War II - 1970s Botswana and the love and respect her peoples held for her president and one another. Relationships were full of polite concern and approach, individuals addressing one another with the titles Mma and Rra, and even their full names - even when they were close friends or spouses.

All this is reminiscent of America's Old South, but without the prejudice and cotton fields. Characters often take extra first names as do my friends, who include Happy, Sunday, Lucky, Blessed, and similar. They are all uplifting, these extra names. The lead character Mma Ramotswe is also called Precious, at age 34 and size 22 dress, which she states many times is an African norm of beauty. She is traditionally lovely, and she means business in her own determined yet elegant way.

Traditional House in Mahalapye, Botswana

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A Scotsman in Botswana

McCall Smith is a Scottish gentleman that taught law at the University of Botswana, also functioning as a professor of medical law at Edinburgh University, Scotland. How wonderful! He is akin to a Scottish Erle Stanley Gardner in Africa. His stories take place largely in Botswana, with side trips to the country South Africa just to the South. Many people ride buses across the continent, and Mma Ramotswe also has a "tiny white van" that a garage owner friend up the street maintains for her.

With the tiny white van and a high achiever from the local secretarial college, Precious sells a portion of her inherited cattle and opens up her detective agency, the first int he country. A woman can do this in modern times -- Especially when people seem always to be asking where someone or something has gone.

The first few days of the agency are slow, taken up with red bush tea and reading bills for utilities and such. Then, just as Precious goes on a personal errand, her secretary runs to find her to tell her about their first client who has just come in. Beginning with this firsrt woman, each new client tells a simple story about wanting to find someone or something. The first client's husband went off to church on Sunday and did not return -- Where is he? Another woman wants to find a relative - any relative, for she knows of none. Parents ask where their son is - has he been stolen by a witch doctor for his bones? A doctor seems to have two personalities and one of them is inept.

Number 1 - Satsfaction Guaranteed

A Gracefulness of Success

As a young woman, Precious married a musician that abused her, but gave her a child, That child lived only a few hours after birth and the widowed father of Precious died, leaving her a healthy herd of cattle wealth. Vowing to begin again, the lady decides to open her agency and not to marry again. She purchases a small house nearby and enjoys it after work, where she is determined to help each and every person that asks for help, if that help is possible.

Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is another leading character. As the good garage man with sometimes silly young mechanics at Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors up the road, he is a good friend as well. He volunteers at orphanage maintain its water pump and car for other equipment and vehicles. He is a good man and someone that helps Precious think about her cases.

Mma Precious Ramotswe gains the community confidence in a relatively short time and people recognize her in public, saying to one another, "It is she, the detective." At first taken aback by the attention, she learns to graceful maneuver through it to complete her assignments and gain additional credibility in what was once considered a male occupation. She stands for old Africa, the old beauty of the continent and its lifestyles, and states to herself while cooking, "When thinking gets you nowhere, you still have to eat your pumpkin."

McCall Smith's book attempts also to paint a positive portrait of modern Africa, not the one full of Sudan and its genocide, but one containing the grace of Botswana. Detective cases include some focus on modern political issues like social structure, power, gender, and infrastructure, but in a graceful way.

The book is fun for many reasons, the main one being the qualitiy and type of the characters, but for at least one other -- Precious compares her cases to that presented by Agatha Christie and continually consults a detective's handbook she purchased by mail order. These methods help instead of hinder her.

Jill Scott Sings "Golden"

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Comments 16 comments

Maria 7 years ago

I have already read the book and I only can say that it's a very good and funny book! I loved it from the beginning.


Tony 7 years ago

Great hubpage, very detailed and enjoyable.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Thanks for the comments!


Netters profile image

Netters 7 years ago from Land of Enchantment - NM

Wow, very interesting.


maven101 profile image

maven101 7 years ago from Northern Arizona

I love BBC productions...Remember " Faulty Towers "..? Loved that show...

Thanks for the very interesting and well-written, as usual, Hub....


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

I am reading the first sequal "Tear fo the Giraffe" and it looks to be jsut as good.

And I loved watchng Fawlty towers with John Cleese! BBC is the best.


cindyvine profile image

cindyvine 7 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

I lived in Botswana for four years and his descriptions in the book of the people and the land are spot-on. Apparently, the others aren't as good as the first. I've only read the first and thoroughly enjoyed it.


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

cindyvine, I appreciate your post about this. I am reading the second and rather like it and I read the most recent in the series all in one sitting at the library and really liked that one as well. I don't know yet about the ones in between; but I think the first is likely my favorite and may be the best! Have you seen the TV show?


Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

You know what? I was soooo curious about this book. I was going to get it, but I had already filled my hands with books I'd wanted for so long and couldn't find a good trade out. I'm definitely going to giive this series a try. I am a complete fan of The Cat Who series (although since the ghost writing I've been a bit disappointed as Koko and Yum Yum have not been as active; I think it's picking up again though.) Great hub.

Mavin 101 I am a total fan of BBC. I always have a faulty towers and a Hyacinth on hand to laugh with. And of course a Tom Baker Dr. Who and countless others. Water Towels to youl


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Oh, Tom Baker is my favorite Dr. Who.

The Cat Who series is strange in the last two books - I do hope it imprives again as well, Frieda. Glad you visited! I love your avatar.


Frieda Babbley profile image

Frieda Babbley 7 years ago from Saint Louis, MO

Thanks Patty. I'm glad I visited as well. I know what I'm asking for for my birthday next month.


verax 7 years ago

I have read this series and have hopes we can see this in the US. What amazes me is how a guy from Scotland can deliver the goods on these stories


Feline Prophet profile image

Feline Prophet 7 years ago from India

Patty, like you I didn't get around to reading 'The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency' till very recently, and I enjoyed it hugely! Such a delightful, gentle book! Haven't come across any of the others in the series but I am waiting to watch the TV adaptation.

And I need to find out more about 'The Cat Who...' series...for obvious reasons! :P


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 7 years ago from North America Author

Hi verax - I think that being born in Botswana profoundly affected McCall Smith and became part of him as the first culture always does if we live in it a few years as children. I love the language of the books.

Feline friend - Yes, Cat Who books are often pretty good (except last two). The first three were written in the late 1960s and are my favorite. Then not until around 1986 were any others written, after Braun's retirenment from the Detroit Free Press. She began as a teenager writing sports poems. Very talented. And wrote her first poem at age 2 or 3, all by herself. She is 90+ now.

The Cat Who Moved a Mountain is great - about mountain people and how they care for one another and even for strangers. Brilliant.


Huntgoddess profile image

Huntgoddess 6 years ago from Midwest U.S.A.

Thanks for the review. I really loved this book. I'd seen it at Barnes & Noble, but could never afford to buy it. I could tell from the cover blurb that it would be good. I was fortunate enough to find a free copy on the free book exchange shelf at our local food coop. I put it back there when I finished. It was just so amazingly beautiful. Kind of sad, but happy, too.

I'm not sure I understand how a male writer can create such a great female character, but .... Oh, well, Agatha Christie created Hercule Poirot, now, didn't she? A little irony there, because when Precious tells the border patrol that she's a detective, he asks, "How can a woman be a detective?"

Her answer: "Haven't you heard of Agatha Christie?"

He then asked, "Who is this Mr. Christie?"


Patty Inglish, MS profile image

Patty Inglish, MS 6 years ago from North America Author

Delightful comments! When McCall Smith lived and worked in Africa, he must have become well versed in females "that can do things." His wife is a doctor and also likely had an influence.

I remember the Christie sequence. What fun now, but glass ceiling were/are no fun!

The latest in the series pokes fun at a type of Double Comfort Safari and tackles more serious topics than the rest of the books perhaps, but has become one of my favorites. I wish the characters were real people in my own city.

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