The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is the first of a series of very funny books written by the Rhodesian born (now Zimbabwe) Alexander McCall Smith.
The book is set in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana and describes the adventures of Mma Ramotswe, the only lady detective in Botswana.
The narrator starts by telling us of how Precious Ramotswe grew up without her mother and how her father, who had become very ill through working in the mines in South Africa, looked after her. In a very light hearted way, McCall Smith describes the harsh conditions the miners had to suffer. The lady who looks after Precious after her mother has died is an aunt who had been “returned” to her family by her husband for not being able to bear children. The description of Precious Ramotswe’s early life gives a brief account of what life is like in the rural areas of Botswana and how the traditional extended family relations work.
We also learn about Note Mokoti, the jazz musician whom Precious married against her father’s advice and turned out to be a very big mistake. Note serves to explain why Precious Ramotswe is not married and is without children despite her belief in the traditional order of things.
The rest of the book (and indeed the following books in this series) describes the cases Mma Ramotswe is asked to investigate, some serious bloodcurdling ones; such as the case of the missing boy who is suspected of having been used for traditional medicine and some funny and cheerful ones; such as Happy’s impostor daddy and the womaniser whose wife thinks innocent. Very sweet, upbeat books that tell us stories of an Africa no one writes about anymore, very far from the typical AIDS and poverty stories that have now come to symbolise the African continent!