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Literature / The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

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Mma Ramotswe had a detective agency in Africa, at the foot of Kgale Hill.

You have probably heard of precisely two works set in Botswana. This is the one that isn't The Gods Must Be Crazy.

Series of 21 (so far) books, written by Alexander McCall Smith, involving Precious Ramotswe, Botswana's first female detective and therefore number one. The series started in 1998 and is still ongoing as of 2020, releasing one book roughly every year.

The books have been adapted for TV, with the two-hour pilot in Easter 2008, followed by a six-part series in 2009, based on the first ten books. The books were originally going to be filmed in South Africa, but Botswana's government, realising the tourism that would come its way, offered The BBC $5 million to film there instead. So they did.

The pilot was the last work of director Anthony Minghella before his death in 2008.

There has also been a radio adaptation.


    Books in the series so far 
  1. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (1998)
  2. Tears of the Giraffe (2000)
  3. Morality for Beautiful Girls (2001)
  4. The Kalahari Typing School for Men (2002)
  5. The Full Cupboard of Life (2004)
  6. In The Company of Cheerful Ladies (2004 – also known as The Night-Time Dancer)
  7. Blue Shoes and Happiness (2006)
  8. The Good Husband of Zebra Drive (2007)
  9. The Miracle at Speedy Motors (2008)
  10. Tea Time for the Traditionally Built (2009)
  11. The Double Comfort Safari Club (2010)
  12. The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party (2011)
  13. The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection (2012)
  14. The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon (2013)
  15. The Handsome Man's De Luxe Cafe (2014)
  16. The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine (2015)
  17. Precious and Grace (2016)
  18. The House of Unexpected Sisters (2017)
  19. The Colors of All the Cattle (2018)
  20. To the Land of Long Lost Friends (2019)
  21. How to Raise an Elephant (2020)
  22. The Joy and Light Bus Company (coming October 2021)

This book series contains examples of:

  • A Minor Kidroduction: The first few chapters of the first book are from the perspective of Precious' late father, Obed Ramotswe.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: Can come across like this to native English speakers. It seems that everyone in Botswana speaks stitled, formal, old-fashioned, and rather pompous English. Truth in Television, by most accounts.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: A woman comes to Mma Ramotswe trying to catch proof of her husband's womanizing ways. The detective does this in the most convenient way possible: taking a photo of the two of them together. The client goes ballistic.
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  • Celibate Hero: Mma Ramotswe was married once, but it turned out poorly for her. Since then, she has sworn off men and was perfectly happy being a single lady. Until she said yes to Mr. J. L. B Maketoni.
  • Closet Geek: Mma Makutsi is a fan of superhero movies, though Mma Ramotswe thinks they're ridiculous.
  • Darkest Africa: Averted big time. Botswana is portrayed as a modern, fairly prosperous nation, albeit one still struggling with the AIDS crisis and a great deal of generational Culture Clash.
  • Domestic Abuse: Precious' ex-husband, jazz musician Note Mokoti, beat her so hard that she miscarried. Mme. Ramotswe notes that this is a particularly common problem where she lives.
  • Dude Magnet: Mma Ramotswe has no issues in the men department, having at least two men propose to her in the first book.
  • Full-Name Basis: Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni is always referred to, and addressed, in this way.
  • Good Old Ways: The old Botswana morality. Mma Ramotswe frequently bemoans the lack of it, though she picks and chooses the parts she likes. She has very modern ideas of gender and sexuality, but her ideas seem to be grounded in her belief in respecting everyone. She hates most modern technology and refuses to use computers and telephones.
  • Innocently Insensitive: People all over Botswana will call Mma Ramotswe "fat" or a "fatty" to her face. Precious doesn't seem to mind though, since being fat isn't considered a slight to the traditional African woman.
  • Insistent Terminology: in the books, Mma Ramotswe always refers to herself as "traditionally built."
  • Little Old Lady Investigates: Precious Ramotswe is not old, and definitely not little. The premise is mostly similar though.
  • Nice Guy: J.L.B. Matekoni is good-natured and mild-mannered almost to a fault.
  • Orphanage of Love: Mma Potokwane's orphan farm.
  • Overly Narrow Superlative: The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency happens to be the best (and only) female detective agency in Botswana.
  • Place Worse Than Death: When musing about heaven and hell, Mma Ramotswe believes the second one must look something like Nigeria.
  • Private Detective:
  • Raised by Wolves: In Morality For Beautiful Girls, a boy is found in the desert who cannot talk. He is sent to the orphan farm run by Mma Potokwane, who asks Mma Ramotswe to investigate. Based on the fact that the boy acts more like an animal and hasn't grasped the concept of language, plus the fact that he smelt of lion when he was found, they conclude that he was raised by lions, but they decide to keep him at the farm because he has shown progress in learning how to talk.
  • Running Gag: Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni's full name. Mma Ramotswe knows what it is, but no one else does. John Limpopo Basil. He doesn't like the "Basil".
  • Sassy Secretary: Mma Makutsi will not hesitate to point out that she got 97% on her exams at the Botswana Secretarial College, and is very offended at being asked to work in conditions that do not meet her exacting standards.
  • Sexy Secretary: Mma Makutsi averts this. She only makes a half-decent stab at Hot Librarian, actually and says she doesn't like them. Her rival from secretarial college however exploits this trope in order to get jobs despite getting half of Makutsi's score.
  • The Slacker: J.L.B. Matekoni's apprentices, Charlie and Fanwell, are strongly opposed to doing any work beyond what they absolutely have to, for all his attempts to teach them old-fashioned work ethics.
  • Strongly Worded Letter: Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni writes one to the Minister of Education when he considers the general apathy of his two apprentices (when women aren't involved). Upon completing it, he realizes how pompous and old-fashioned it sounds.
  • Token White: Largely averted. There are several white people - Dr. Moffat, for instance - but they are treated no differently than the Batswana.
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Precious is willing to wait in the dark with a rifle for a man-eating crocodile, but flees her van when she thinks a deadly snake is inside, until a man comes along and sorts out the problem for her. That doesn't stop her from taking credit for killing the snake when she wants to impress an arrogant attorney later on.
  • Would Hurt a Child: The process of making muti (traditional medicine) involves the bones of children, and looking for a boy kidnapped for this purpose is one of Mma Ramotswe's first cases.

The TV adaptations add examples of:

  • Ascended Extra: Cephas Buthulezi is only around for a few scenes in one book. He is shifty but never really causes any trouble. In the television series, he is present in two episodes and is nothing short of malicious to Mme. Ramotswe.
  • Funny Background Event: In the pilot, Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi leaving work at the end of the day, not noticing that an unhappy client has graffitied their "No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency" sign.
  • Knight of Cerebus / Vile Villain, Saccharine Show: Idris Elba's character in the pilot is notable for being far scarier than most of the antagonists in the show, which, like the books, is fairly lighthearted and low-stakes.
  • Large Ham: David Oyelowo in the pilot, Patterson Joseph as a rival detective.
  • Scenery Porn: Shot on location in Botswana, the landscape shots will show anyone why Mma Ramotswe loves her country.
  • Token White: Completely averted, there being no white people in the series at all.
  • Took a Level in Badass: J.L.B. Matekoni in the season finale.

Alternative Title(s): The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency