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Publisher's Summary

This remarkably fresh and charming best seller took the world by storm upon its publication. It has since earned two Booker Judges' Special Recommendations and was voted one of the "International Books of the Year and the Millennium" by the Times Literary Supplement.

Mma "Precious" Ramotswe sets up a detective agency in Botswana on the edge of the Kalahari Desert, making her the only female detective in the country. At first, cases are hard to come by. But eventually, troubled people come to Precious with a variety of concerns. Potentially philandering husbands, seemingly schizophrenic doctors, and a missing boy who may have been killed by witch doctors all compel Precious to roam about in her tiny van, searching for clues.

Chosen as a Top Ten Mystery by the Organization of Independent Booksellers, U.S.A., The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is that rare novel that imparts a sage wisdom while inspiring hearty laughter and lasting smiles.

Listen to the other titles in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.
©1998 Alexander McCall Smith (P)2003 Recorded Books, LLC

Critic Reviews

  • Book Sense Book of the Year Award Finalist, Paperback, 2003
  • Edgar Allan Poe Award Winner, Best First Novel by an American Author, 1998

"One of the most entrancing literary treats of many a year...A tapestry of extraordinary nuance and richness." (Wall Street Journal) "An artful, pleasing novel...General audiences will welcome this little gem of a book just as much if not more than mystery readers." (Publishers Weekly) "Smart and sassy...Precious' progress is charted in passages that have the power to amuse or shock or touch the heart, sometimes all at once." (Los Angeles Times)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings


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  • Overall
  • Gene
  • Agoura Hills, CA, USA
  • 12-07-03

Transcends its Genre

Sometimes a book that supposedly inhabits a certain genre breaks away and becomes literature. That is true of this book, which unveils an entire universe practically unknown to most of its readers: Botswana and Africa. This is a horizon-widening book, and to call it detective fiction is like referring similarly to Crime and Punishment. When describing it, one is tempted to describe it as hilarious, and it certainly has many hilarious aspects, but it also has moments of sadness and empathy, sometimes with the perpetrator of a crime. The love of Africa is another element that shines forth. The narrator seemed to me to be the Merryl Streep of naration, rendering accents with a musical, dead-on, laconic precision compared to the way I thought they should sound. I don't have time to finish this review, unfortunately -- I'm busy listening to The Tears of the Giraffe, the next in the series...

52 of 53 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Andrew
  • Lombard, IL, USA
  • 05-07-04

an excellent piece of literature

i have to admit that i purchased this novel thinking i would be getting a detective story along the lines of sherlock holmes or agatha christie. but this book is so much more than a detective story. it is a story of love and africa, the kalahari sun and simplicity, the joys and heartaches of a family, and the triumphs of the human spirit.

the narrator is poignant and articulate and communicates very effectively the simplicity and unburdened hearts of her characters. her accents are impeccable and the listener can almost feel the sun on their brow and the dry wind at their back. a narrator can make or break a title, and i can't imagine reading this title as a book - the narrator brings out so many nuances that i would have missed simply with the written word. her efficacy ranks up there with the narrator of <i>life of pi</i> and <i>why we buy</i>.

i was also surprised that, as character-driven as this book is, i held my attention through to the very end. the author is very skilled at offering little details and background settings that intrigue the listener and cause one to want to push further and discover if these little details are going to be important later on. rarely was i disappointed. the book fits together like a difficult jigsaw puzzle: many pieces that somehow make a beautiful picture once that last piece is filled in. even more beautiful is that the pieces are so often portraits of the heart of the author's intimately crafted characters.

19 of 20 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Delightful and Interesting Story

My wife and I thoroughly enjoyed this charming story. It reveals the beauty of an African culture through well constructed, believable characters. It is wonderfully narrated by Ms. Lecat

18 of 19 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

This book made my life better

I do not usually go for detective stories, however, as someone already mentioned, this is more of a cultural exploration, introducing an idealistic side of Africa that is not generally portrayed in the US. The narration is genious - I could happily listen to Lisette Lecat for the rest of my life. The story is relentlessly cheerful without being sappy, and is deceptively complex while feeling soooo easy and pleasurable. I am easily swayed by emotional affect in stories, and this one could cure any existential crisis...

24 of 26 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Wonderful Book

This book has a wonderful, gentle pace. It was disconcerting at first because I kept waiting to be swept into the main plot, but that never seemed to happen. Don't be put off by the unusual format because it soon becomes addictive.

The main storyline is not concerened with one case as most detective novels are. Instead, we have vignettes from the life of Precious and her first cases as a detective. The main case, the disappearance of a child, is a dark subplot, which brings forward the memories of spousal abuse experienced by Precious herself.

This is a really satisfying book. I can see why it was televised by the BBC and featured on HBO. I just purchased the next in the series and can't wait to get started.

14 of 15 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Performance
  • Story

Simple and Easy ... Wonderful African Setting

STORY (modern fiction) - Yes, the title of the book has the word "detective" in it and the main character is a detective, but this is not your typical detective book. The main character, Precious Ramotswe, is female, self-admittedly very fat, and has no detective training whatsoever. She lives in Botswana and drives a tiny white van (three words which you will hear about 50 times). She just decides to open up a detective business and does it. Throughout the book she is referred to as "Mma Ramotswe," which apparently is some form of title similar to Miss or Madam or Mrs. and is pronounced "Ma."

Anyway, Mma Ramotswe solves probably six or seven mysteries throughout the book. They are all fairly simple problems like following a possible cheating husband or figuring out why a doctor seems to be behaving strangely. She solves these problems with nothing more than a good heart, common sense and some very creative lying. Yes, lying. She drives around in that tiny white van following people, then comes up with some pretty good whoppers to convince them to tell her what she needs to know so she can solve her case. And she always does.

The book is very easy listening. You're not going to get anxious or sad, and your mind can wonder a bit and you won't lose your place. That's not to say it's boring. It's well written with nice descriptions of African landscape and villages. It's just easy, entertaining and a nice little escape to Africa!

PERFORMANCE - Ms. Lecat has a lovely voice. I don't know if her accent is authentic African, but it convinced me. She also performs some nice male characters, one with a convincing Indian accent as well. Sometimes I could kind of her her lips opening and closing which was a little distracting, but she did a great job overall.

OVERALL - Very clean book with no sex, cursing or violence. I think it would appeal mostly to adult females, but I suppose guys and teenagers could also find it enjoyable. This is Book 1 of the series, so there is more character development and family history than I would expect in later books. The story can stand alone.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

I have found a new favorite detective!

If you like Miss Marple, Hercule Poirot and more classic detective fiction, you will probably enjoy this work quite a lot. I find some of the "modern" detective stories too dark and depressing with detectives it is hard to like and a view of human nature that I find far from reality. This book is filled with characters you would like to get to know and people who you can see in your friends and neighbors. Even the villians and criminals are recognizable.

The book is filled with insightful and humourous comments about the human nature, and a simple wisdom that I loved. I will definitely be reading and listening to more from this author.

18 of 20 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Tanya
  • Southeastern PA, US
  • 06-08-05

Not to be missed!

I had a little trouble getting started with this book - I started it, found it too slow and put it away for quite a while. I was convinced to try again and was entranced. I became so engrossed with the style and easy pace of the novel and Precious, I was disappointed when the book ended. This is not an action packed adventure novel but rather a poetic and magical tale. I just discovered to my joy that this is only the first in a series! I had never given Botswana much thought before listening to this book and now wish I could visit... Highly recommended.

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall

Wonderful story, full of surprises

When I bought this audio book I had never heard of the series so I was delighted to find it was the first of many. After listening to this one I immediately purchased the other books in the series (I think there are 4 or 5). Having listened and not read all of the books in the series, I'm not sure of the spelling of the detective's name, but it sounds like Maura Motswe. Anyway, she is he lady who starts the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency in Botswana. The reader reads the book in a wonderful lilting voice and immitates the characters in the book very well. The author uses wonderful language to describe Africa and it's easy to imagine being there yourself. I found this entire series very enjoyable, very easy to listen to, and one that I will want to listen to again and again. A fun and uplifting reading experience. My husband really enjoyed the books as well, so this is definitely not a "Ladies' only" recommendation!

10 of 11 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Alex
  • Laguna Beach, CA, USA
  • 10-15-06

Refreshing change!

As an avid mystery reader, I find I need an occasional change of pace from plots that are fast moving or suspenseful. For this ease of tension, I look for "cozy mysteries" employing a plot in which the murder has already been committed, and we follow the detective in the investigation. No.1 Ladies D.A. is this slower, more relaxing pace with different outlooks on the culture and landscape of Africa. The reader reflects this pace in her approach with excellent use of accents, adding to the whole experience and immersing us in the life of Mma Ramotswe, lady detective. I can't wait to read the rest of the series and try other books by the author!

9 of 10 people found this review helpful