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How to Find a No. 1 Lady Detective

Updated on July 9, 2014

Look in Africa

Africa is a beautiful continent, full of beautiful peoples of many nations. True, there is war, starvation, and horror in some parts of Africa, but many beautiful cultures still exist within this dense smog of conflict here and there. At the same time, churches and aid groups from around the world work in Africa to solve problems.

Food is delivered and agriculture and irrigation methods are taught. Slaves in Sudan are purchased back and freed. Micro-loans for business enterprises are given. Elephants are rescued from their injuries and long sufferings. There is hope even in the darkest of times and this makes the ladies of author Alexander McCall Smith's Botswana very cheerful.

McCall Smith chooses to write from his own background e


McCall Smith chooses to write from his own background experiences in Africa in order to promote a return to ethics and morality according to traditional mores and beliefs. He shows us a simpler, more sincere life in his Botswana novels that can be maintained even amid the hubbub and chatter of industrialized society. This takes a conscious effort on the part of indidivuals, but it can be done -- This is well known.

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, by Alexander McCall Smith. An international best seller. Anchor Books; A Division of Random House, Inc. New York (2004).

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies

5 stars for Opinion Of this Book

Look Behind a Pumpkin

Mma Precious Ramotswe continues to be the proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Gaborone, Botswana in this 6th installment of the detective series by Alexander McCall Smith. One difference, of course, is that she is now married to the fine, upright Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni. He is the long-term proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors automobile shop. This is a good thing – a wonderful thing - and all is right with the world of Botswana, except that the younger generation has been raised without manners and there is an overabundance of business at the detective agency and the mechanic’s garage. It is fortunate that they share the same business property for efficiency and mutual aide.

Is seems that overall morality and common sense have slipped a bit, though, with the upgrading of industrialized process and capitalism that flourishes in Gaborone. Mma Ramotswe spends a luxurious free Saturday afternoon at her favorite outdoor café near the pedestrian mall and commercial hub of Gaborone. What assails her eyes over the brim of her bush tea cup? A woman across the way that is browsing the vendors’ stalls snatches a bangle bracelet and hides it in her pocket. Mma Ramotswe arises to stop the culprit, when the cafe waitress comes out and accuses her of running out on her bill, but will let it pass for an extortion fee. Another diner soon tells her that she should try the hotel cafes, because they are easier to flee without paying -- Several atrocities of moral decline in modern Gaborone in the space of 15 minutes!

Mma Ramotswe attempts to balance this seemingly daily decline by holding to Botswana traditional values of kindness and respect in her dealings with friends, neighbors, her clients, and even strangers. She and her husband have even taken in two orphans – one in a wheelchair, but very capable nonetheless - and advices her assistant detective and garage manager, Grace Makutsi, in guiding two irresponsible apprentices at the garage

Mma Ramotswe is a cheerful lady and Mma Makutsi can also be cheerful as well as very animated. The events in this novel try both their temperaments.

On the Saturday afternoon of moral decline in Gaborone, Mma Ramotswe returns home to find things moved around in the kitchen by some unknown party. A man hiding under a bed make a clean getaway, but leaves his trousers behind, because they were well snagged on a bedspring. Mma Ramotswe simply hangs them on the porch and the next morning, the yare gone, but a huge pumpkin sits in front of the house instead. She and her family love pumpkin and this one will make several meals, but from whence did it come? The trousers-and-pumpkin mystery has a two-part solution, one part very unexpected, but happy.


Look Behind a Typewriter

At the detective shop, the ladies look into the flight of a Zambian financial bigwig with his company’s funds. Frustratingly, they put out all manner of feelers on this case without answers. One of the inquiry letters, to a Zambian physician, received a reply with this response:

”You people are always saying that Zambians are dishonest and that if there is any money missing then you should look in Zambian pockets. This is defamation and we are fed up with such stereotypes. Everybody knows that you should be looking in Nigerian pockets…” (p.152)

I was laughing so hard at this statement that I had to stop reading.

All is well however, for Mma Grace Makutsi, who must read all of these replies. She is able to catch a good lead on the case in the end. At the same time, her own part-time typing school for men makes enough money for her to buy a new pair of shoes occasionally. Her growing collection of shoes speaks to her when she is in need of a second opinion about life. They do not give very much advice, but they are amusing.


Look for a Dancing Woman

Many cases come to the detective shop and Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi cold become overwhelmed, but their teamwork is effective and both are able to manage some free time. 

So many cases! - The apprentice Charlie runs off with a rich married woman. On top of this, he runs off with her to Mr. J.L.B. Maketoni's old house that he rents to a tenant. What is is on there and why is there so much alcohol on the premises? Could it be an "after hours" bar open 24/7 and commiting highway robbery with patrons?

Another case - While following Charlie to the house full of odd happenings and booze, the lady detectives almost run over an older man on a bicycle coming the other way. He is looking for work, poor man, having been without a job for 2.5 years. This is Mr. Polopetsi, who has a dense background of bush tracking, medical knowledge, and pharmacy work. He can also understand a vehicle engine, so he may prove helpful soon to the dectectives and the garage very soon. 

A secret case - An abusive ghost from the past appears in Gaborone, demanding money form Precious Ramotswe, "or else." He threatens legal actions. Mma Ramotswe later ventures to his mothers tiny compound at the end of a red mud and stone driving path outside of Gaborone. but the ghost is gone. However, she receives vital information. Then, over 10 miles from the city, her tiny white van dies on the driving path and she must walk home in the dark night. The next day, she and the garage men find the van stolen.

All this is enough to make Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi glum rather than cheerful. Hoevere, a cup of bush tea, follwoed by the rising sun in the limitless Botswana sky the next morning restore a proactive attitude and smiles.  

And anyway, Mma Makutsi has taken her new shoes to dancing lessons on Friday nights and has stared down (with her large clean glasses and smile) ambitious women seeking rich husbands at these classes. She herself would like to meet a good man, but meanwhile she is kind to a shy man, which is a good deed that will be repaid -- This is well known.


Look to the Sunrise

Is the New Gaborone Too Modern?

In the developing democracy that is Botswana, business has grown almost beyond control in Gaborone. This is true for business people that adhere to the traditional values of good, honest cutomer service, quality craftmanship, and determined follow-up. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors are so busy that they need to hire more help. Can they find this good help? This is compounded in the garage by "modern" lazy, entitlement-flaunting apprentices.

In the white collar world of Garborone, the majority of young women attending the classes at the Botswana Secretarial College attend only so that they will be offered a job by a prime catch of a businessman husband upon graduation. Therefore, they spend their time on enticing behaviors and appearances and cannot score higher than 50% on their final exams, which is good enough for the businessmen involved in their hire.

However, all is not lost in the new democracy. The lady detective and the good garage men can change their corner of the world more than they might think possible. They brighten it like the new sunrise each morning.

Anyone from middle or high school through adult can enjoy In the Company of Cheerfull Ladies by Alexander McCall Smith. It is a revitalizing change from hectic 21st Century life, in which one does not always know who the enemy is or in howmany directions at once he will attack. A traditional Botswana/Setswana parting is "Go in Peace. Go Slow." Readers can do this beautifully in reading this book.


Number One Ladies and Other Stories

Good Things About the Author

Mr. Alexander McCall Smith grew up in Africa and then proceeded to Scotland to study law. He returned to Africa and worked in criminal law in Botswana, assisting the local university to establish its Law Faculty. It is Botswana that is the backdrop for his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, the setting chosen for its gentle positive values and justice.

McCall Smith has been a professor of Medical Law for quite a while in Edinburgh, Scotland as well. He is a renowned international authority on genetic. he advises UNESCO and the British government on bioethics as well. Given the uproarious changes in 21st Century society - cloning, DNA evidence, genetic engineering, eugenics, ghosts of genocide - writing his Botswana series is escape and comfort him himself as well as his readers.

McCall Smith is not afraid to write about moral certainty, kindness, sincerity, and compassion and feels that these are legitimate, if not necessary, topics. He tells his readers in interviews with the BBC and elsewhere that the qualities he advocates in his African sleuthing series are real qualities that are found throughout Botswana and all her peoples. This is something to hang onto in the storms of change on 21st Century Earth.

Comments and Thoughts

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    • Sandyspider profile image

      Sandy Mertens 8 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      Really enjoyed reading this.

    • Patty Inglish, MS profile image

      Patty Inglish 8 years ago from USA. Member of Asgardia, the first space nation, since October 2016

      Hi ripplemaker - So glad to give you a smile! These books always help lift the heart and I hope your weather improves as well. Thahnks for reading :)

    • ripplemaker profile image

      Michelle Simtoco 8 years ago from Cebu, Philippines

      Hi Patty, the word cheerful drew me to your hub on this cloudy and stormy Sunday :) I enjoyed reading your book review "In the Company of Cheerful Ladies." :D