Precious Ramotswe (The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency)

Created by Alexander McCall Smith

One of the most unlikely but likable of private eyes, PRECIOUS RAMOTSWE is a fat, jolly young (she’s only 22 in the first novel) woman who sets up The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Gaborone, Botswana, thus becoming that emerging south African nation’s first female detective. Although there’s something downright cozy about the whole thing, what with its quirky, engaging cast and its on-going emphasis on their assorted domestic, romantic and emotional crises, it never devolves into frothy sap or cloying cuteness, and even a crank like me can find no other word for this series but “charming.”

And millions of fans seem to agree with me. The series is a global phenomenom, each new title rocketing up the bestselling charts, and spawning an entire industry unto itself that includes a BBC radio series, a popular HBO television adaptation starring American singer Jill Scott, a cookbook and now evidently a series of books aimed at young readers.

Although the self-taught sleuth is certainly a private detective, the books are a far cry from the mean streets of Chandler, Mosley, Hammett et al. Nor does she have much in common with her fellow sisters in the gumshoe game. Unlike many female eyes, Precious isn’t particularly well-educated, nor is she prone to soul-searching or jogging.

But that’s not to say she’s not smart — in fact, she’s blessed with a shrewd empathy and the sort of true grit and clear-eyed pragmatism that readers of more hard-boiled fare will instantly recognize, even if the oft-covered themes of domestic violence, understanding, compassion, forgiveness, restitution and domestic infidelity, and her genteel, folksy, homespun common sense approach to problem solving (often over a steaming cup of red bush tea) set her apart from the herd.

In fact, the precedent for this series may be not some hard-boiled — or even softly cozy — mystery series, but James Herriot’s All Thing Bright and Beautiful series of novels. And that’s meant entirely as a compliment.

Clever, patient and displaying tremendous gumption, Precious is a young “traditionally built” woman who serves as the novels’ main character and narrator, but the episodic tone of the novels revolves as much around the adventures and foibles of different colourful characters as irt does around the mysteries. Besides Mma Ramotswe, there’s her bookish, tightly wound secretary, Mma Grace Makutsi, and Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, the lovestruck mechanic and proprietor of the local Speedy Motors, Precious’ would-be suitor and eventual husband, who keeps her old clunker from falling apart.


Alexander McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe, taught law at the University of Botswana and is now Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh. He has written more than fifty books, including several works of non-fiction, as well as the popular Sunday Philosophy Club mysteries, but he’s best known for the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. In 2004 he was awarded British Book Awards Author of the Year and Booksellers Association Author of the Year. He lives in Scotland, where in his spare time he plays a really mean bassoon.


  • “To say McCall Smith is a literary phenomenon doesn’t quite describe what has happened. He has become more of a movement, a worldwide club for the dissemination of gentle wisdom and good cheer.”
    — The Telegraph
  • “The author’s prose has the merits of simplicity, euphony and precision. His descriptions leave one as if standing in the Botswanan landscape. This is art that conceals art. I haven’t read anything with such unalloyed pleasure for a long time.”
    — Anthony Daniels,Sunday Telegraph
  • “The Miss Marple of Botswana.”
    — The New York Times Book Review
  • “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”
    — Otto Penzler on The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency
  • “Mma Ramotswe’s heart is as ample as her frame, and although the most atrrocious murders are unlikely to come her way, any injustice, large or small, engages her energies and compassion.”
    — P.D. James
    , Talking About Detective Fiction (2009)



    (2004, BBC4)
    Written by Alexander McCall Smith
    Starring Claire Benedict as Mma Precious Ramotswe

    • “The Daddy” (September 10, 2004)
    • “The Bone” (September 17, 2004)
    • “The Maid” (September 24, 2004)
    • “Tears of the Giraffe” (October 1, 2004)
    • “The Chief Justice of Beauty” (August 30, 2005)
    • “The Confession” (September 6, 2005)
    • “The Kalahari Typing School for Men” (September 13, 2005)
    • “The Admirer” (September 20, 2005)
    • “How to Handle Men through the Application of Psychology” (January 18, 2007)
    • “House of Hope” (January 25, 2007)
    • “The Return of Note” (February 1, 2007)
    • “The Ceremony” (February 8, 2007)
    • “There Is No Such Thing as Free Food” (January 1, 2008)
    • “The Best Profession for a Blackmailer” (January 2, 2008)
    • “A Very Rude Woman” (January 3, 2008)
    • “Talking Shoes” (January 4, 2008)
    • “The Miracle at Speedy Motors” (December 25, 2008)
    • “Tea Time for the Traditionally Built” (December 25, 2009)
    • “The Seller of Beds” (December 25, 2009)
    • “An Exceptionally Wicked Lady” (December 2, 2010)
    • “The Double Comfort Safari Club” (December 3, 2010)
    • “A Late Van Just Glimpsed” (November 3, 2011)
    • “The Saturday Big Tent Wedding” (November 4, 2011)


    (2008, HBO)
    Original airdate: March 23, 2008
    Based on characters created by Alexander McCall Smith
    Writers: Richard Curtis, Anthony Minghella
    Directed by Anthony Minghella
    Starring Jill Scott as PRECIOUS RAMOTSWE
    With Anika Noni Rose as Grace Makutsi
    Lucian Msamati as JLB Matekoni
    and Desmond Dube as BK
    (2009, BBC/HBO)
    Based on characters created by Alexander McCall Smith
    Starring Jill Scott as PRECIOUS RAMOTSWE
    With Anika Noni Rose as Grace Makutsi
    Lucian Msamati as JLB Matekoni
    and Desmond Dube as BK

    • Season One
    • “The Big Bonanza, 2009) March 15, 2009)
    • “Poison, 2009) March 22, 2009)
    • “The Boy With an African Heart, 2009) March 29, 2009)
    • “Problems With Moral Philosophy, 2009) April 5, 2009)
    • “Beauty and Integrity” (April 12, 2009)
    • “A Real Botswana Diamond” (April 19, 2009)


  • Mma Ramotswe’s Cookbook (2009; by Stuart Brown) Buy this book
    Well, isn’t this Precious? Fans of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency can skip the bottle of hooch in the desk drawer and settle in with a nice cup of red bush tea instead. With photographs by Mats Ogren and a foreword by Precious’ creator, Alexander McCall Smith, this amply illustrated culinary tour offers an intriguing glimpse into Botswana’s traditions and culture, with numerous detours for recipes for stews, fat cakes (doughnuts) jams and other trtaditional delicacies, with the proceeds from the book’s sales being shared among several African charities.
  • Copper by Croopa: The African Stripes Collection
    An Etsy shop selling handcrafted copper wire earrings — inspired by Precious — that capture the colours of Africa in bold and simple tribal stripes. As the artist herself says, “I made these earrings after being understandably swept off my feet while reading the whole series of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Rra. McCall Smith. My earrings are obviously not about Ramotswe herself, nor about detection in general. But they are loosely relevant to Africa which is central to Ramotswe’s identity, but I feel that any hardcore Ramotswe fan will want to own a bit of vibrant African flavour… “


Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith.



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