Created by Alexander McCall Smith, the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is set in Botswana and run by Bostwana's first and only female detective Precious Ramotswe, daughter of the late Obed Ramotswe and ex-wife of Note Mokoti. Engaged to be married to Mr J.L.B Matekoni who is the charming proprietor of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, and she is assisted by Grace P. Makutsi, the only graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College to have secured 97% in her final exams. Mma Ramotswe's style is unconventional, her methods are unorthodox but she solves seemingly mundane mysteries with a panache.
McCall has written not just a set of mystery stories, but he evokes beautifully the slow but rich life of Bostwana. With no hint of colonial condescension, he manages to evoke a country that is proud of its heritage, its tradition and its founder Seretse Khama.
The phenomenal success of the first book meant that it was followed up by five others: Tears of the Giraffe, Morality for Beautiful Girls, The Kalahari Typing School for Men and The Full Cupboard of Life. The stories involve not just mysteries but also daily dramas- the maid in Mr Matekoni's house who is displeased that he has acquired a fiancee, the two orphan children, Motholeli and Puso that the couple adopt and Mma Potokwani, the proprietoress of the orphan farm where Mr Matekoni is frequently called upon to repair the old pump. In the fourth volume, Mma Ramotswe faces competition from the Satisfaction Guaranteed Detective Agency of Cephas Buthelezi as well as complications that arise when one of the men at the Kalahari Typing School fall in love with Mma Makutsi.
And in the background of all this is Bostwana, whose empty spaces, echoing skies and enchanting beauty breaks the heart. As Mma Ramotswe prepares another cup of steaming bush tea, the temptation to listen to all she has to say is irresistible.
What reviewers have to say:
Anthony Minghella: 'I was enchanted by the character of Precious Ramtoswe, the sly humour of Alexander McCall Smith's writing and his deft evocation of a culture.'
Seattle Times: 'The author has an easy command of story telling and a gift for describing dusty, sun baked Botswana. His books, ostensibly mysteries are also gentle but incisive commentaries on Africa, men and women, and life in general.'
The Times: 'With a tone that is as elegant and polite as that which is unfailingly used by his protagonist, Smith gently unfolds a picture of life in Bostwana's capital...with a mastery of comic understatement and a powerfully evidenty sympathy for his subjects and their milieu, Alexander McCall Smith sets out a world where old rituals of politeness and respect hold sway. His unassuming, carefully voiced tour of the small things that make life worth living is a quiet delight.'
Alida Becker, NYT: Mma Ramtoswe's methods- and her result- are as unusual as the novels they inhabit...All this activity is much less about whodunnit than why...It's also very much about the variety and resilience of a nation to which Smith seems utterly devoted. As, of course, is Mma Ramotswe.