No 1 Ladies Detective Agency Summary

Alexander McCall Smith

No 1 Ladies Detective Agency

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No 1 Ladies Detective Agency Summary

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British author Alexander McCall Smith’s detective novel The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (1998) is the first book in the series of the same name, which, in 2016, includes seventeen novels. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency focuses on Mma Precious Ramotswe, a Botswana woman from Gaborone, the capital city of Botswana, as she starts the first detective agency in the city after her father passes away. Hiring a secretary and taking on cases, she seeks to honor her father and make a name for herself in a society that does not believe a woman can do this sort of work. Narrated alternately by Precious and her late father in flashbacks, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency explores themes of national identity, women’s rights and liberation, the role of animals in African society, and the skills needed to be an effective detective. The series is overall a hit, although it became much more popular when the second and third installments were released in the United States in 2002. In 2010, a spin-off aimed at young readers, Young Precious Ramotswe, was released in five installments. The original series has been praised for its optimistic, leisurely tone and its well-researched depiction of the culture of Botswana. It was adapted into an HBO television series starring Jill Scott, which ran for one season from 2009 to 2010.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency opens by summarizing how Precious Ramotswe inherited the money and will to be an independent woman from her late father, and how she used both to start the first detective agency in Botswana run by women. Her first successful case, looking into the true identity of a man posing as a client’s father is described. Further flashbacks show her past, including her father’s youth and time working in the mines, the death of Precious’s mother, and her past abusive marriage. After her husband disappeared and her father died, Precious bought herself a house, moved to the capital city, and hired Grace Makutsi, a young college graduate, to serve as her assistant and receptionist. Several cases of hers, including a missing husband, a suspicious employee of an old friend, and a protective father investigating his daughter, as well as a stolen car and a pair of twins pulling a medical scheme are summarized. The one she cannot solve easily, though, is a case of a missing boy who may be related to a bone found in the glove compartment of a car being worked on by her mechanic friend, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni.

It is revealed that Matekoni has feelings for Precious that go beyond friendship or professional, and as such, he is somewhat suggestible in terms of helping her. He asks her for her hand in marriage, but she is too haunted by memories of her abusive marriage and is determined to remain independent. She kindly, but firmly, rejects his proposal and continues investigating the case he has brought her. As she works on the case of the missing boy, we see what drives her as a person—her pride in being African, the way she keeps her home, her determination for success. She deeply enjoys exploring the land around her, appreciating Botswana’s natural beauty, and works to make herself a better investigator. She is deeply involved in reading a guide to being a detective. However, she is haunted by memories, including of the death of her child after a premature birth and the scorn she faced for being overweight.

Investigations of the human bone lead Precious to confront the wife of a local witch doctor, who tells her the bone does not belong to the missing boy. In fact, the boy is working for the woman and is perfectly fine. The bone was purchased from another source in Africa, and its origin is unknown. She takes Precious to the cattle ranch owned by her and her husband and shows Precious that the boy is working as a farmhand under the supervision of the witch doctor. Quickly, Precious hurries the boy away when no one is looking and drives him back in her van to reunite him with his parents. The case is a success, and Precious knows her business will continue to grow thanks to word from the grateful parents. The book ends with Precious asking Matekoni for help repairing the engine of her van, which was damaged by dust in the escape. He finishes, and they retire to the kitchen to have tea and dinner. He once again politely asks Precious to marry him. This time, she says yes.

Alexander McCall Smith is a British author who is a member of the Order of the British Empire and the Royal Society of Edinburgh. A Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh, he is a leader in the field of bioethics in addition to his work as a writer. The author of close to a hundred novels, most in the format of detective series, he has sold more than forty million copies worldwide and has been translated into forty-six languages. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency remains his most famous work. He is also the writer of fourteen academic texts.