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    Q&A | May 11, 2015

    Heidi Pitlor: IMG Powell’s Q&A: Heidi Pitlor

    Describe your latest book. My novel, The Daylight Marriage, is about a wife and mother who goes missing one day. The narrative alternates between... Continue »
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1 Remote Warehouse Mystery- A to Z

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency


The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Cover



Reading Group Guide

1. Unlike in most other mysteries, in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Mma Ramotswe solves a number of small crimes, rather than a single major one. How does this affect the narrative pacing of the novel? What other unique features distinguish The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency from the conventional mystery novel?

2. What makes Precious Ramotswe such a charming protagonist? What kind of woman is she? How is she different from the usual detective? Why does she feel “called” to help her fellow Africans “solve the mysteries of their lives” [p. 4]?

3. What is surprising about the nature of the cases Mma Ramotswe is hired to solve? By what means does Alexander McCall Smith sustain the readers interest, in the absence of the kind of tension, violence, and suspense that drive most mysteries?

4. Mma Ramotswes first client, Happy Bapetsi, is worried that the man who claims to be her father is a fraud taking advantage of her generosity. “All he does,” she says, “is sit in his chair outside the front door and tell me what to do for him next.” To which Mma Ramotswe replies, “Many men are like that” [p. 10]. What is Mma Ramotswes view of men generally? How do men behave in the novel?

5. Why does Mma Ramotswe feel it is so important to include her fathers life story in the novel? What does Obed Ramotswes life reveal about the history of Africa and of South Africa? What does it reveal about the nature and cost of working in the mines in South Africa?

6. Mma Ramotswe purchases a manual on how to be a detective. It advises one to pay attention to hunches. “Hunches are another form of knowledge” [p. 79]. How does intuition help Mma Ramotswe solve her cases?

7. When Mma Ramotswe decides to start a detective agency, a lawyer tells her “Its easy to lose money in business, especially when you dont know anything about what youre doing. . . . And anyway, can women be detectives?” To which Mma Ramotswe answers, “Women are the ones who know whats going on. They are the ones with eyes. Have you not read Agatha Christie?” [p. 61]. Is she right in suggesting women are more perceptive than men? Where in the novel do we see Mma Ramotswes own extraordinary powers of observation? How does she comically undercut the lawyers arrogance in this scene?

8. As Mma Ramotswe wonders if Mma Malatsi was somehow involved in her husbands death and whether wanting someone dead made one a murderer in Gods eyes, she thinks to herself: “It was time to take the pumpkin out of the pot and eat it. In the final analysis, that was what solved these big problems of life. You could think and think and get nowhere, but you still had to eat your pumpkin. That brought you down to earth. That gave you a reason for going on. Pumpkin” [p. 85]. What philosophy of life is Mma Ramotswe articulating here? Why do the ongoing daily events of life give her this sense of peace and stability?

9. Why does Mma Ramotswe marry Note? Why does this act seem so out of character for her? In what ways does her love for an attractive and physically abusive man make her a deeper and more complicated character? How does her marriage to Note change her?

10. Mma Ramotswe imagines retiring back in Mochudi, buying some land with her cousins, growing melons, and living life in such a way that “every morning she could sit in front of her house and sniff at the wood-smoke and look forward to spending the day talking with her friends. How sorry she felt for white people, who couldnt do any of this, and who were always dashing around and worrying themselves over things that were going to happen anyway. What use was it having all that money if you could never sit still or just watch your cattle eating grass? None, in her view; none at all” [p. 162]. Is Mma Ramotswes critique of white people on the mark or is she stereotyping? What makes her sense of what is important, and what brings happiness, so refreshing? What other differences between black and white cultures does the novel make apparent?

11. Mma Ramotswe does not want Africa to change, to become thoroughly modern: “She did not want her people to become like everybody else, soulless, selfish, forgetful of what it means to be an African, or, worse still, ashamed of Africa” [p. 215]. But what aspects of traditional African culture trouble her? How does she regard the traditional African attitude toward women, marriage, family duty, and witchcraft? Is there a contradiction in her relationship to “old” Africa?

12. How surprising is Mme Ramotswes response to Mr. J.L.B. Matekonis marriage proposal? How appropriate is the ending of the novel?

13. Alexander McCall Smith has both taught and written about criminal law. In what ways does in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency draw upon this knowledge? How are lawyers and the police characterized in the novel?

14. Is in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency a feminist novel? Does the fact that its author is a man complicate such a reading? How well does Alexander McCall Smith represent a womans character and consciousness in Mma Ramotswe?

15. Alexander McCall Smiths Precious Ramotswe books have been praised for their combination of apparent simplicity with a high degree of sophistication. In what ways does in The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency have the appeal of simple storytelling? In what ways is it sophisticated? What does it suggest about the larger issues of how to live ones life, how to behave in society, how to be happy?

What Our Readers Are Saying

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Average customer rating based on 11 comments:

Annette P, September 9, 2010 (view all comments by Annette P)
Genuine, thoughtful characters combined with an understanding of human nature make this series a delightful read. It's no wonder that HBO created a show based on the books.
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(3 of 6 readers found this comment helpful)
lahlstedt, January 13, 2010 (view all comments by lahlstedt)
I had gotten into something of a rut, reading mostly British mystery novels. I just didn't seem interested in anything else. One day at the library I checked out the audio book version of "No. 1 Ladies'", even though I was pretty sure I wouldn't get very far in it. After all, it wasn't set in London, and there didn't seem to be any good murders to solve, so I wasn't sure it was the book for me. How wrong I was! I was instantly captivated by the setting and characters of this charming book. Precious Ramotswe starts her own detective agency after inheriting a herd of cattle upon her father's death. Luckily for her, she is able to hire the efficient (if somewhat uptight) Grace Makutsi, proud graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College, as her secretary. Although there aren't any earth-shattering mysteries to solve, they do work together to help people with their everyday problems and worries. The author's admiration for the people and country of Botswana really shines through. I was so happy to discover Mma Ramotswe's world, and I anxiously await each new installment in the series!
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(3 of 8 readers found this comment helpful)
Judy Armstrong, January 7, 2010 (view all comments by Judy Armstrong)
This beginning book of a series should win an award because it shows the goodness of people. You always come away from books in this series thinking the world and people are basically good. So refreshing in our violent, sensational world.
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Product Details

A No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Novel (1)
McCall Smith, A.
Smith, Alexander McCall
McCall Smith, Alexander
New York, NY
Mystery & Detective - Women Sleuths
Mystery fiction
Ramotswe, Precious (Fictitious character)
Mystery & Detective - General
Mystery-A to Z
Edition Description:
Trade paper
No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
February 2003
Grade Level:
7.90x5.34x.68 in. .58 lbs.

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The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency Used Trade Paper
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Product details 256 pages Anchor (UK) - English 9781400034772 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

A 'cozy' set in Africa. This is the first in a wonderful new mystery series set in Botswana. Using deceptively simple language that nonetheless sings with the rhythms of Africa, the author introduces us to the indomitable lady detective, Precious Ramotswe. You will come to love her and the land she lives in.

"Review" by , "One of the best, most charming, honest, hilarious and life-affirming books to appear in years."
"Review" by , "In the course of her work, Mma Ramotswe offers ample evidence of her country's complexities and contradictions....Practical yet softhearted, inventive yet steeped in convention, Mma Ramotswe is an appealing personality..."
"Review" by , "The most entertaining read of the year."
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