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The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Today Show Book Club #8)
by Alexander McCall Smith

Published: 2003-12-16
Kindle Edition : 272 pages
12 members reading this now
85 clubs reading this now
29 members have read this book
Recommended to book clubs by 16 of 18 members
THE NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY - Book 1

Fans around the world adore the best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and its proprietor, Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective. In this charming series, Mma  Ramotswe—with help from her loyal associate, Grace ...
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Introduction

THE NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY - Book 1

Fans around the world adore the best-selling No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and its proprietor, Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s premier lady detective. In this charming series, Mma  Ramotswe—with help from her loyal associate, Grace Makutsi—navigates her cases and her personal life with wisdom, good humor, and the occasional cup of tea.

This first novel in Alexander McCall Smith’s widely acclaimed The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series tells the story of the delightfully cunning and enormously engaging Precious Ramotswe, who is drawn to her profession to “help people with problems in their lives.” Immediately upon setting up shop in a small storefront in Gaborone, she is hired to track down a missing husband, uncover a con man, and follow a wayward daughter. But the case that tugs at her heart, and lands her in danger, is a missing eleven-year-old boy, who may have been snatched by witchdoctors.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency received two Booker Judges’ Special Recommendations and was voted one of the International Books of the Year and the Millennium by the Times Literary Supplement.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Review

Penzler Pick, July 2001: Working in a mystery tradition that will cause genre aficionados to think of such classic sleuths as Melville Davisson Post's Uncle Abner or Robert van Gulik's Judge Dee, Alexander McCall Smith creates an African detective, Precious Ramotswe, who's their full-fledged heir.

It's the detective as folk hero, solving crimes through an innate, self-possessed wisdom that, combined with an understanding of human nature, invariably penetrates into the heart of a puzzle. If Miss Marple were fat and jolly and lived in Botswana--and decided to go against any conventional notion of what an unmarried woman should do, spending the money she got from selling her late father's cattle to set up a Ladies' Detective Agency--then you have an idea of how Precious sets herself up as her country's first female detective. Once the clients start showing up on her doorstep, Precious enjoys a pleasingly successful series of cases.

But the edge of the Kalahari is not St. Mary Mead, and the sign Precious orders, painted in brilliant colors, is anything but discreet. Pointing in the direction of the small building she had purchased to house her new business, it reads "THE NO. 1 LADIES DETECTIVE AGENCY. FOR ALL CONFIDENTIAL MATTERS AND ENQUIRIES. SATISFACTION GUARANTEED FOR ALL PARTIES. UNDER PERSONAL MANAGEMENT."

The solutions she comes up with, whether in the case of the clinic doctor with two quite different personalities (depending on the day of the week), or the man who had joined a Christian sect and seemingly vanished, or the kidnapped boy whose bones may or may not be those in a witch doctor's magic kit, are all sensible, logical, and satisfying. Smith's gently ironic tone is full of good humor towards his lively, intelligent heroine and towards her fellow Africans, who live their lives with dignity and with cautious acceptance of the confusions to which the world submits them. Precious Ramotswe is a remarkable creation, and The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency well deserves the praise it received from London's Times Literary Supplement. I look forward with great eagerness to the upcoming books featuring the memorable Miss Ramotswe, Tears of the Giraffe and Morality for Beautiful Girls, soon to be available in the U.S. --Otto Penzler

Excerpt

CHAPTER ONE

The Daddy

Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill. These were its assets: a tiny white van, two desks, two chairs, a telephone, and an old typewriter. Then there was a teapot, in which Mma Ramotswe--the only lady private detective in Botswana--brewed redbush tea. And three mugs--one for herself, one for her secretary, and one for the client. What else does a detective agency really need? Detective agencies rely on human intuition and intelligence, both of which Mma Ramotswe had in abundance. No inventory would ever include those, of course. ... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the Publisher:

1. Unlike in most other mysteries, in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency Mma Ramotswe solves a number of small crimes, rather than a single major one. How does this affect the narrative pacing of the novel? What other unique features distinguish The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency from the conventional mystery novel?

2. What makes Precious Ramotswe such a charming protagonist? What kind of woman is she? How is she different from the usual detective? Why does she feel “called” to help her fellow Africans “solve the mysteries of their lives” [p. 4]?

3. What is surprising about the nature of the cases Mma Ramotswe is hired to solve? By what means does Alexander McCall Smith sustain the reader’s interest, in the absence of the kind of tension, violence, and suspense that drive most mysteries?

4. Mma Ramotswe’s first client, Happy Bapetsi, is worried that the man who claims to be her father is a fraud taking advantage of her generosity. “All he does,” she says, “is sit in his chair outside the front door and tell me what to do for him next.” To which Mma Ramotswe replies, “Many men are like that” [p. 10]. What is Mma Ramotswe’s view of men generally? How do men behave in the novel?

5. Why does Mma Ramotswe feel it is so important to include her father’s life story in the novel? What does Obed Ramotswe’s life reveal about the history of Africa and of South Africa? What does it reveal about the nature and cost of working in the mines in South Africa?

6. Mma Ramotswe purchases a manual on how to be a detective. It advises one to pay attention to hunches. “Hunches are another form of knowledge” [p. 79]. How does intuition help Mma Ramotswe solve her cases?

7. When Mma Ramotswe decides to start a detective agency, a lawyer tells her “It’s easy to lose money in business, especially when you don’t know anything about what you’re doing. . . . And anyway, can women be detectives?” To which Mma Ramotswe answers, “Women are the ones who know what’s going on. They are the ones with eyes. Have you not read Agatha Christie?” [p. 61]. Is she right in suggesting women are more perceptive than men? Where in the novel do we see Mma Ramotswe’s own extraordinary powers of observation? How does she comically undercut the lawyer’s arrogance in this scene?

8. As Mma Ramotswe wonders if Mma Malatsi was somehow involved in her husband’s death and whether wanting someone dead made one a murderer in God’s eyes, she thinks to herself: “It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you a reason for going on. Pumpkin” [p. 85]. What philosophy of life is Mma Ramotswe articulating here? Why do the ongoing daily events of life give her this sense of peace and stability?

9. Why does Mma Ramotswe marry Note? Why does this act seem so out of character for her? In what ways does her love for an attractive and physically abusive man make her a deeper and more complicated character? How does her marriage to Note change her?

10. Mma Ramotswe imagines retiring back in Mochudi, buying some land with her cousins, growing melons, and living life in such a way that “every morning she could sit in front of her house and sniff at the wood-smoke and look forward to spending the day talking with her friends. How sorry she felt for white people, who couldn’t do any of this, and who were always dashing around and worrying themselves over things that were going to happen anyway. What use was it having all that money if you could never sit still or just watch your cattle eating grass? None, in her view; none at all” [p. 162]. Is Mma Ramotswe’s critique of white people on the mark or is she stereotyping? What makes her sense of what is important, and what brings happiness, so refreshing? What other differences between black and white cultures does the novel make apparent?

11. Mma Ramotswe does not want Africa to change, to become thoroughly modern: “She did not want her people to become like everybody else, soulless, selfish, forgetful of what it means to be an African, or, worse still, ashamed of Africa” [p. 215]. But what aspects of traditional African culture trouble her? How does she regard the traditional African attitude toward women, marriage, family duty, and witchcraft? Is there a contradiction in her relationship to “old” Africa?

12. How surprising is Mme Ramotswe’s response to Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni’s marriage proposal? How appropriate is the ending of the novel?

13. Alexander McCall Smith has both taught and written about criminal law. In what ways does in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency draw upon this knowledge? How are lawyers and the police characterized in the novel?

14. Is in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency a feminist novel? Does the fact that its author is a man complicate such a reading? How well does Alexander McCall Smith represent a woman’s character and consciousness in Mma Ramotswe?

15. Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe books have been praised for their combination of apparent simplicity with a high degree of sophistication. In what ways does in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency have the appeal of simple storytelling? In what ways is it sophisticated? What does it suggest about the larger issues of how to live one’s life, how to behave in society, how to be happy?

Suggested by Members

We had a great discussion around when is it ok to lie about something, or omit information for the same reason.
by tavflan63 (see profile) 01/14/16

Themes to explore would be New vs Old Africa, the role that family played, women's roles and the relationship between characters.
by edavies (see profile) 10/25/10

Women's issues in Botswana
by kellyrimar (see profile) 04/28/10

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

No notes at this time.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
 
 
by krilljack (see profile) 07/04/20

 
  "The first book that every book club member enjoyed. "by [email protected] (see profile) 03/17/17

We found it to be humorous, informative, and engaging. The main character was relatable even though she lived a continent away in with a culture and society very alien. Several members now want to read... (read more)

 
by Sloanie (see profile) 01/23/16

 
  "The Ladies #1 Detective Agency"by tavflan63 (see profile) 01/14/16

This is the second time I have read this book, and I have also read most of the books in the series. I love the characters, especially Mma Ramotswe and Mr. J.L.B Matekoni. I was fascinated about the... (read more)

 
by Justina (see profile) 01/03/16

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