Customer Reviews: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Book 1)
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This second entry in Smith's Botswana-set series picks up right where the wonderful The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency left off. Indeed, the two books are utterly seamless, and it'd be a real shame to read this without reading its predecessor first. The book picks up with the engagement of "traditionally built" Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's sole woman detective, to local master mechanic Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. While the structure is the same as the first book�a missing son as the central running mystery, and some smaller cases interspersed�the new couple's relationship is the real focus.
So, while Precious is asked by an American woman to find out what happened to her son, who disappeared from a commune ten years previously, she must also negotiate the pitfalls of setting up house with Mr. Matekoni, the acquisition of an engagement ring, and the dastardly schemes of Mr. Matekoni's nasty housekeeper, and the unexpected addition of two foster children to her household. All of which she does with her keen sense of human nature and wisdom. Her secretary/typist is also given increased attention, allowed to take on the case of a cheating wife all by herself.
Built into the stories are ruminations of the tensions between modernity and traditional values. There are a number of passages that attempt to capture the essence of Africa, and how that noble vision is under constant assault by greed, corruption, and power. The adventures of Precious and her cohort are a warm antidote to the often depressing news that dominates coverage of Africa in the West. Smith writes in a delightfully fluid and simple prose with pacing that makes the book quite difficult to put down. The series thankfully continues with Morality for Beautiful Girls and The Kalahari Typing School For Men, with further volumes to follow, one hopes.
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on August 12, 2002
Oh, how I'm enjoying the continuing series in the story of Mma. Ramotswe, owner of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Botswana, Africa! I love this strong African woman who is proud of who and what she is and where she is from and I'm highly entertained by the clients and other characters that she comes across.
"We help people with the problems in their lives. We are not here to solve crimes," Mma. Ramotswe tells one client. Not your average detective, she and her staff of one (Mma. Makutsi, her secretary turned-assistant detective) help people from different backgrounds with varied problems. Mma. Ramotswe even has a personal problem to resolve when her fiancée (Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, owner of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors) starts acting in a strange manner without warning or reasoning.
I like the way the author brings out the close relationship between Mma. Ramotswe and Mr. Matekoni. The couple chooses to address each other formally but it is done in the context of respect, affection and love. The mannerisms and dialog between the other characters show the reader some of the cultural nuances in that part of the world.
The issue of morality -- how people treat each other, forgiveness, helping others -- comes up as the detectives work. On a job assignment, Mma. Makutsi goes in search of a beautiful girl with morals for a beauty pageant(hence the title). Mma. Ramotswe wrestles with the idea of whether some of her methods of detective work are moral.

Set to a vivid background of the dry but beautiful land of Botswana with its great Braham bulls and colorful people, Alexander McCall Smith describes scenes that remind me of the picturesque movies like OUT OF AFRICA and I DREAMED OF AFRICA.
MORALITY FOR BEAUTIFUL GIRLS is another fun book to read.
Fafa Demasio
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on March 21, 2003
Precious Ramotswe is a comfortable size-22 African lady (none of your Euro/American size 6's for her, thank you very much) with a fund of mother-wit and a penchant for minding other people's business. Having survived a disastrous, abusive marriage and the death of her infant son, she turns a small legacy from her late father, whom she adored, into "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency", the only one of its kind in Botswana, or maybe in all of Africa. From shaky beginnings with non-paying clients and chauvinistic male attitudes ("Who ever heard of a woman detective?" demands a border policeman; "Haven't you ever heard of Agatha Christie?" Mma Ramotswe shoots back, not missing a beat), she builds up a small but solid clientele that brings her problems to solve concerning cheating husbands, wayward daughters, malingering employees trying to commit insurance fraud; and a spectacularly sinister case involving a missing eleven year old boy who may or may not have been murdered for witchcraft purposes. Giving Mma Ramotswe quiet but ever-present moral support, while keeping her old car from falling apart, is Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, who loves every inch of Mma Ramotswe's ample frame and is patiently waiting for the brick wall of her resistance to marriage to crumble, so she can make him the happiest man on earth.
Smith has written an enchanting book that is can be described as a cross between an engaging detective story and a love poem to Africa. Mma Ramotswe is as warm and as solid as the red earth of Botswana; she loves every inch of the Africa she knows and identifies with and wouldn't live anywhere else. She embodies the African traits of deep ties to family and community, concern for one's neighbors, and respect for tradition. She commands respect and she gets it. Smith has added a delightful and enduring creation to the pantheon of famous detectives in fiction. Jane Marple, move over. Or rather, make a separate space for Mma Ramotswe. She deserves a pedestal of her own.
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on December 20, 2003
I'm an American woman who has spent 12 years living in Africa, and traveled to almost every part of the African continent. When I discovered the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, I could hardly wait to read Tears of the Giraffe. I was not disappointed. I can hardly wait to get to the next books in the series. After saying she would never, ever remarry (in the first book), Precious does get engaged in this book, but continues to pursue investigating her cases while engaged. There are a lot of interesting developments that I don't want to give away. She hasn't gotten married by the end of the book, that is left to us in the third book to find out about.....!
I found it interesting that the author is a Professor of Medical law, living in Scotland, but having been born and raised in Zimbabwe. He has published many varied books on many subjects. I think these are his "fun" books! I also think that part of the reason he has written these books is to show non-Africans what traditional African society is like, especially how it is managing to move into the modern age. By setting it in Botswana, he neatly sidesteps many of the problems found in other parts of Africa, and is able to concentrate both on his story, and on showing us how traditional Africans THINK and act. I found this especially interesting, having lived in several African cultures, myself. I also find the series very uplifting and rewarding to read, in addition to being a good story. I think some of the critical reviews are from people who have never lived or traveled in Africa, and they just don't realize how true-to-life are so many of the episodes-I do not find these books at ALL condescending toward blacks. On the contrary, they are a celebration of the traditional GOOD values found in black African culture (a nice change from what we usually see in the news).
There were several things I especially enjoyed about this book. I don't particularly enjoy first-person, male-oriented police detective novels. This is about a woman detective, who had no more qualifications than you or I, but who just hung out a sign, and used her common sense. She ordered a text book from London, from which she learned some investigative procedures. She's very clever. The book is not written as a first person, blow-by-blow account. On the contrary, it is written in third person, and is more about her LIFE, going through her becoming a detective, the cases she meets along the way (which we watch her solve), and what we learn about the society as we go along. I would highly recommend this book to anyone planning to travel to any southern African country. It is a light, humorous book, from which you can learn a lot while enjoying a great story. I found it difficult to put down. I have now read the first two books in the series, and plan to order every single one. I can hardly wait until they arrive in the mail!
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on February 17, 2004
I highly recommend that you read The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, by Alexander McCall Smith. The author was born in Africa, taught law at University of Botswana and is a professor of medical law at Edinburgh University. I feel confident he draws a realistic picture of life in Botswana. It is one of the emerging African nations, a landlocked country about the size of Texas, located just above South Africa. The Kalahari is right next-door.
The author writes about Africa as seen through the loving eyes of Mma Precious Ramotswe, who establishes the first detective agency in Botswana. This is a business she feels will fill a need in the community because people are always wanting to know something.
Mma Ramotswe is proud of her country, proud of the first President of her country even though no one remembers him now. Mma Ramotswe is about 35 years old when we meet her--a very likeable woman in control of her life. She is a fine figure of an African woman, not one of these skinny sticks of girls you see nowadays (in her words).
The clients who come to her agency each have a story of his or her own. They are told in a simple and direct way and are all the more powerful for their simplicity. For instance: an old man shows up claiming to be a woman's long lost Daddy. She would care for him and gladly give him a home, as is her duty-if he really is her Daddy. Mma Ramotswe is hired to find out. You'll have to read the book to find out for yourself!
She had been married when she was young, but the man was gone now, leaving nothing but pain behind. She has no dearth of suitors now, but she is an independent woman with a business, and thinks she does not need a husband.
Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, a good man and owner-operator of Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, is one of her many admirers. He wants to marry her. Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni says, "Yes, a country needs Government men, it needs doctors and nurses and teachers. But it also needs mechanics for the cars of these important people." He visits the local orphanage to keep its water pump in good working order and tune up or repair its vehicle.
The stories told in this little book are at once shocking and familiar. They are stories of human nature. It is easy to find similarities to her stories in our own lives. These are good people and their stories will draw you right in.
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on April 1, 2002
"No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," introduces the reader to "Precious Ramotswe, citizen of Botswana, daughter of Obed Ramotswe who died because he had been a miner and could no longer breathe." Instead of calling her Precious Ramotswe, everyone commonly addresses the story's heroine as Mma. Ramotswe.
We read about Mma. Ramotswe life growing up and that of her father who worked as a miner and later became a prosperous cattle owner. When her father passes away, being the only child, Mma. Ramostswe becomes the recipient of a sizable amount of money. She decides to use the funds to establish what will become the first detective agency in Botswana (in the southern part of Africa). This decision will make her "the first and only lady private detective in the whole of Botswana..." When others scoff at or try to dissuade her about the idea of female detective, Mma. Ramotswe deftly points to the well-known mystery writer, Agatha Christie who solved many mysteries through popular characters such as Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple.
This portly, intelligent and amusing woman is an unlikely character, in an unlikely setting - Africa. But why not? There are mysteries to be solved everywhere and by anyone.
Mma. Ramotswe's cases are amusing - they range from imposters, missing husbands, lost children, to stolen property and more. What is interesting is the way the premier lady detective solves her cases and handles herself in particular situations and with others.
Author Alexander Mc Call Smith, who is also a law professor, was born in Zimbabwe (southern part of Africa) and educated in that country as well as in Scotland. He successfully captures the true essence, mannerisms, greetings and culture of Africa and its characters that are proud to come from that continent.
In addition to Botswana and South Africa, other countries such as Ghana, Nigeria (countries in West Africa), Lesotho, Mozambique, and Malawi (countries in the southern part of Africa, not to be confused with South Africa) are mentioned as well. If you are unaware of these countries, it is a nice learning experience.
After reading "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," you'll feel as if you've been to Botswana and solved a few cases, yourself! Read it, you'll enjoy it!
Fafa Demasio
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on July 11, 2003
Alexander McCall Smith has written over 50 books, from specialized works as The Criminal Law of Botswana, Forensic
Aspects of Sleep to Children's books. He currently is a Professor of Medical Law at Edinburgh University.
Tears of the Giraffe takes us further into the life of the interesting and confident Precious Ramotswe, the owner and detective of Botswana's only Ladies' detective agency. Among her cases in Tears of The Giraffe are wandering wives, the devious and dangerous maid of Mma Ramotswe's fiance and a challenge to resolve a mother's pain for her missing son, who is long lost on the African plains. Mma Ramotswe's own impending marriage to the best mechanic and gentleman, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, the promotion of her secretary to the dizzy heights of Assistant Detective and new additions to the Matekoni family, all come together again to produce the second humorous and charmingly entertaining of tales in Smith's series.
A enchanting view of life as it is in today's Africa. This mystery is enhanced by the belief and charm of the lifestyle of the
characters and the plot. A totally fun read for the many fans who wish to escape to a simpler lifestyle, whether you've traveled to Africa or not!
I thoroughly enjoyed this book for it's unique and likable characters and exotic setting. The uniqueness of the mysteries
reflect a simpler lifestyle than many of us live and especially expect in a "mystery". TOTAL ENJOYMENT!
John Row
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on December 12, 2002
In the 2nd novel of his series on Precious Ramotswe, the only lady detective in Botswana, Alexander McCall Smith continues to turn the detective genre inside out with some of the best writing you'll see in any genre. Precious is African, female, of "traditional build," open-hearted, optimistic, and wise, in opposition to the classic hard-boiled cynical American wiseguy.
"Tears of the Giraffe" develops the metaphor of a detective as a kind of mother who, by observing the people around her carefully, is at the same time taking care of them. The maternal theme is explicit in this story: the primary mystery involves an American mother looking for a long-lost son. At the same time Precious must cope with the sudden adoption of two winsome orphans by her fiancee, Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni. Watching out for people, watching out for Africa itself, is a way of respecting it.
The style of the book mirrors Precious herself: simple, too-the-point, a fine sense of humor, and very observant. There are some really eloquent even lyrical passages as Precious drives across her belowed Botswana.
I again caution that readers with a taste for complex who-dun-it thickly plotted detective novels will find this VERY different. And if you are new to the Ramotswe series, start with the first book (The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency), which will give you important details of Precious' and Matekoni's history.
But please read it eventually - you will find no better-written book this year.
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on August 29, 2003
Mma Makutsi rises to her own in this volume of "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective" series books. As Mma Ramtoswe feels the pinch economically and emotionally, what with moneys tight in the agency and the illness of her fiance, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni,she comes to rely on the unexpected talents and strength of her secretary. Mma Makutsi, with her too dark complexion and too big glasses, a less than "beautiful" specimen, shows true beauty in her no nonsense approach to taking on the business managerial load of Tolkweng Road Speedy Motors and its "lazy, girl crazy apprentices", as well as landing a big paying client for the detective agency. Mma Ramotswe doesn't exactly take the back seat, but as she wrestles with the case of depression of her normally steady and reliable Motekoni, she is able to see her secretary's best qualities. In fact, I found the very modern issue of medical depression quite fascinating, along with Mma Ramotswe's recognition of the need to read about it, and get help from the other strong woman in the series, Mma Potokwane, the director of the children's orphanage who relies on Rra Matekoni for help.
This volume of the series was very touching to me, as Precious Ramotswe takes on the case of an obnoxious Governmental Official who wants his own family investigated. Her wisdom in using the cultural courtesies of Botswana to interview the would be "culprits" and find a solution are just good sense. Her strength of character reinforces the issue of morality in the story.
Most amusing of all is the big money customer that Mma Makutsi obtains who requires a quick investigation into the character of four Miss Beauty and Integrity of Botswana candidates, a rush job with an unusual need and surprising resolution.
Best of all, Mma Makutsi shines in her managerial skills with the mechanics and customers of Speedy Motors, more than succeeding in bringing things in line for the ill owner and his intended bride. Her personal joy in receiving the opportunity to succeed in the business world makes her unusal character round out into a fully amusing and "beautiful" woman.
Mr. J. L. B.'s recuperative visit to the orphanage and connection with a wild child there further enrich his gentleman's character.
This is a reassuringly enjoyable read. A comfort and joy for the fans of Alexander McCall Smith's series.
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on September 9, 2001
Morality for Beautiful Girls is third in a series about Precious Ramotswe, a lady detective in Botswana, Africa. For this Midwestern reader the landscape, weather, and daily life in Botswana were fascinating and clearly depicted.
This is not your typical mystery--there is no murder to be solved. Ramotswe and her assistant detective cleverly handle a couple of cases for clients, but her personal life is just as interesting: moving the office, caring for two foster children, and handling the auto repair shop belonging to her fiance who has suddenly begun acting strangely. Ramotswe deals with both the problems of her clients and her personal life in a thorough and straight-forward manner.
I had to buy the first two books in the series (The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, and Tears of the Giraffe) from Amazon.UK, so I was very happy to find this third book on
For something just a little different--highly recommended.
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