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The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency is a series of novels by Alexander McCall Smith set in Botswana and featuring the character Mma Precious Ramotswe. The series is named after the first novel, published in 1998. Twenty-one novels have been published in the series between 1998 and 2020.

Mma Precious Ramotswe is the main character in this series. The country of Botswana is in a sense a character as well, as it figures prominently in the stories. Mma Ramotswe starts up her detective agency using the inheritance from her father to move to the capital city, Gaborone, to buy a house for herself and an office for her new business. She feels a detective needs to know about people more than anything to solve problems for them. The novels are as much about the adventures and foibles of different characters as they are about solving mysteries. Each book in the series follows from the previous book.

The readership was at first small, then gained abruptly in popularity in the US and in England, beyond the author's home in Scotland. In 2004, sales in English exceeded five million, and the series has been translated to other languages. Critical reception has matched the sales of the novels, generally positive, and considering the strength of the novels to be in the characters and Mma Ramotswe's wisdom rather than in the specific mysteries solved in each novel.[1]

The novels have been adapted for radio by the author and for television.

Synopsis of series

The main detective, Mma Ramotswe, is a Motswana woman who is the protagonist in the series and whose story is told in the first novel from birth to opening the detective agency. Mma is a Setswana term of respect for a woman; the equivalent term for a man is Rra.

Mma Precious Ramotswe solves cases for wives whose husbands have gone missing, for a school teacher whose son has disappeared by finding the kidnappers, for a wealthy father whose 16-year-old daughter is frustrating him by going out on her own. She helps a man atone for the sins of his youth by finding the people he hurt decades earlier. She uncovers a scheme by twin brothers to use one medical degree and certificate between the two of them. She solves a case for herself when she thinks she must seek a divorce from her first husband but learns differently when she seeks out his mother. Her personal life has a main sorrow, that her only child lived just a few days, as the child's father beat her during the pregnancy, a story told in retrospect. This led her to decide never to marry again after he left her. Her joy is her engagement and eventual marriage to Mr J. L. B. Matekoni, who has taken on foster care of a sister and brother from the orphan farm. The cases are set in the cities of Botswana, mainly on the edge of the Kalahari desert, rather than in the desert. There are occasional forays into neighbouring nations.

After her first few cases, she purchases a book by Clovis Andersen on detection, The Principles of Private Detection, and then quotes from it throughout the novels when a guide is needed for deciding next steps.

Publication history

The readership was at first small, then gained abruptly in popularity in the US and in England, beyond the author's home in Scotland. The initial books were published in Scotland.

Per Kirkus Reviews, the early novels in this series had their American publication later than in the UK, which published the first in 1998, the second in 2000, and the third, Morality for Beautiful Girls, in 2001. The first three novels appeared in 2002 in the USA. In their review of the first novel in the series, Kirkus Reviews notes that "The first American publication of this 1999 debut has been preceded by two special Booker citations and two sequels, Tears of the Giraffe (2000) and Morality for Beautiful Girls (2001), both forthcoming in the series."[2][3]

In an item from the Wisconsin Public Radio program, Gaborone, to buy a house for herself and an office for her new business. She feels a detective needs to know about people more than anything to solve problems for them. The novels are as much about the adventures and foibles of different characters as they are about solving mysteries. Each book in the series follows from the previous book.

The readership was at first small, then gained abruptly in popularity in the US and in England, beyond the author's home in Scotland. In 2004, sales in English exceeded five million, and the series has been translated to other languages. Critical reception has matched the sales of the novels, generally positive, and considering the strength of the novels to be in the characters and Mma Ramotswe's wisdom rather than in the specific mysteries solved in each novel.[1]

The novels have been adapted for radio by the author and for television.

The main detective, Mma Ramotswe, is a Motswana woman who is the protagonist in the series and whose story is told in the first novel from birth to opening the detective agency. Mma is a Setswana term of respect for a woman; the equivalent term for a man is Rra.

Mma Precious Ramotswe solves cases for wives whose husbands have gone missing, for a school teacher whose son has disappeared by finding the kidnappers, for a wealthy father whose 16-year-old daughter is frustrating him by going out on her own. She helps a man atone for the sins of his youth by finding the people he hurt decades earlier. She uncovers a scheme by twin brothers to use one medical degree and certificate between the two of them. She solves a case for herself when she thinks she must seek a divorce from her first husband but learns differently when she seeks out his mother. Her personal life has a main sorrow, that her only child lived just a few days, as the child's father beat her during the pregnancy, a story told in retrospect. This led her to decide never to marry again after he left her. Her joy is her engagement and eventual marriage to Mr J. L. B. Matekoni, who has taken on foster care of a sister and brother from the orphan farm. The cases are set in the cities of Botswana, mainly on the edge of the Kalahari desert, rather than in the desert. There are occasional forays into neighbouring nations.

After her first few cases, she purchases a book by Clovis Andersen on detection, The Principles of Private Detection, and then quotes from it throughout the novels when a guide is needed for deciding next steps.

Publication history

The readership was at first small, then gained abruptly in popularity in the US and in England, beyond the author's home in Scotland. The initial books were published in Scotland.

Per Kirkus Reviews, the early novels in this series had their American publication later than in the UK, which published the first in 1998, the second in 2000, and the third, Morality for Beautiful Girls, in 2001. The first three novels appeared in 2002 in the USA. In their review of the first novel in the series, Kirkus Reviews notes that "The first American publication of this 1999 debut has been preceded by two special Booker citations and two sequels, Tears of the Giraffe (2000) and Morality for Beautiful Girls (2001), both forthcoming in the series."[2][3]

In an item from the Wisconsin Public Radio program, To the Best of Our Knowledge, the first novel "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, was a surprise hit [in Scotland], receiving two special Booker citations and a place on the Times Literary Supplement's International Books of the Year and the Millennium list." The UK success did n

Mma Precious Ramotswe solves cases for wives whose husbands have gone missing, for a school teacher whose son has disappeared by finding the kidnappers, for a wealthy father whose 16-year-old daughter is frustrating him by going out on her own. She helps a man atone for the sins of his youth by finding the people he hurt decades earlier. She uncovers a scheme by twin brothers to use one medical degree and certificate between the two of them. She solves a case for herself when she thinks she must seek a divorce from her first husband but learns differently when she seeks out his mother. Her personal life has a main sorrow, that her only child lived just a few days, as the child's father beat her during the pregnancy, a story told in retrospect. This led her to decide never to marry again after he left her. Her joy is her engagement and eventual marriage to Mr J. L. B. Matekoni, who has taken on foster care of a sister and brother from the orphan farm. The cases are set in the cities of Botswana, mainly on the edge of the Kalahari desert, rather than in the desert. There are occasional forays into neighbouring nations.

After her first few cases, she purchases a book by Clovis Andersen on detection, The Principles of Private Detection, and then quotes from it throughout the novels when a guide is needed for deciding next steps.

The readership was at first small, then gained abruptly in popularity in the US and in England, beyond the author's home in Scotland. The initial books were published in Scotland.

Per Kirkus Reviews, the early novels in this series had their American publication later than in the UK, which published the first in 1998, the second in 2000, and the third, Morality for Beautiful Girls, in 2001. The first three novels appeared in 2002 in the USA. In their review of the first novel in the series, Kirkus Reviews notes

Per Kirkus Reviews, the early novels in this series had their American publication later than in the UK, which published the first in 1998, the second in 2000, and the third, Morality for Beautiful Girls, in 2001. The first three novels appeared in 2002 in the USA. In their review of the first novel in the series, Kirkus Reviews notes that "The first American publication of this 1999 debut has been preceded by two special Booker citations and two sequels, Tears of the Giraffe (2000) and Morality for Beautiful Girls (2001), both forthcoming in the series."[2][3]

In an item from the Wisconsin Public Radio program, To the Best of Our Knowledge, the first novel "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, was a surprise hit [in Scotland], receiving two special Booker citations and a place on the Times Literary Supplement's International Books of the Year and the Millennium list." The UK success did not speed publishers to release it in the USA. "American publishers were slow to take an interest, and by the time The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency was picked up by Pantheon Books, Smith had already written two sequels. The books went from underground hits to national phenomena in the United States, spawning fan clubs and inspiring celebratory reviews."[4]

In the Company of Cheerful Ladies was the first of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels to be printed in hardback, with a very large initial print run of 101,000 copies to meet the anticipated demand, as sales in English of the series to date, in 2004, exceeded five million.[5]

There was an interesting pathway for knowledge and appreciation of the series by McCall Smith, a Scot, featuring Precious Ramotswe, the female detective in Botswana, to reach England. In reviewing the fifth novel in the series, Marcel Berlins describes the pathway of the growing audience, requiring one to understand that although Scotland and England are part of the same kingdom, the residents do not read the same books at the same time. He notes in his review of The Full Cupboard of Life that it is the fifth in a series, but the first to be readily available in England, via the success of the series in the US. "This novel by an eminent Scottish law professor about a woman detective in Botswana is the fifth in a series, the other four having largely escaped English attention (and availability). The Scots have had better luck: they've known about McCall Smith for several years, but it has taken his extraordinary and unexpected success in the US for word to have filtered back to England that he's a treasure of a writer whose books deserve immediate devouring."[6]

The novels are as much about the adventures and foibles of different characters as they are about solving mysteries. Each novel in the series follows on from the previous one as to setting and plot. McCall Smith's writing style in this series is "deceptively simple" as he "writes in a clear, uncomplicated prose, yet his work is nonetheless insightful and perceptive. His humour is dry, charming and kind-hearted, revealing an author who is keenly observant without a trace of maliciousness."[1]

Marcel Berlins finds the protagonist of The Full Cupboard of Life to be the "magnificent Mma Ramotswe" who operates on intuition and common sense, skilled without much education or special training. He mentions that McCall Smith's novels have brought attention to a success

Marcel Berlins finds the protagonist of The Full Cupboard of Life to be the "magnificent Mma Ramotswe" who operates on intuition and common sense, skilled without much education or special training. He mentions that McCall Smith's novels have brought attention to a successful African nation that is not otherwise well-known. He finds this and the prior novels to be "witty, elegant, gentle, compassionate and exotic."[6] This was the first of the novels available in England (see Publication history). Despite its proximity to Scotland, awareness and availability of the novels in England came after their popularity in the US.[6]

The novels have been reviewed in other languages than the original English; for example, this generally favourable review of the series up to the novel published in 2014, The Handsome Man's De Luxe Café, in a Czech online magazine: "Alexander McCall Smith, however, can enrich the stories of his everyday heroes with a profoundly human understanding of man's weaknesses".[7]

In 2004, the year of the sixth novel's publication, Alexander McCall Smith won the Author of the Year award at the British Book Awards[8] and the Crime Writers Association Dagger in the Library award,[9] both for the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.

The books are set in various towns and cities in Botswana, including Gaborone, Mochudi, Molepolole and Francistown.

Themes covered by the stories

Issues addressed in the cases

Series order

  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 (Wikidata) (2015)
  17. Precious and Grace (Wikidata) (2016)
  18. The House of Unexpected Sisters (Wikidata) (2017)
  19. The Colours of All the Cattle (Wikidata) (2018)
  20. To the Land of Long Lost Friends (Wikidata) (2019)
  21. How to Raise an Elephant (Wikidata) (2020)

Adaptations

The novels have been adapted both for radio and television.

Television

The BBC and American television network HBO

The novels have been adapted both for radio and television.

Television

The BBC and American television network HBO filmed a series based on the books that stars Jill Scott as Mma Ramotswe and was shot on location in Botswana.[10] The 109-minute pilot was written by Richard Curtis and Anthony Minghella, who also directed.[10] The six 60-minute episodes were written and directed by others, as Mr Minghella died before the series was filmed.[11]

Radio

McCall Smith himself dramatised the series for BBC Radio 4. Thirty-five episodes have been broadcast, the first on 10 September 2004, and the most recent on 23 September 2019. The episodes encompass the first to the nineteenth books. Claire Benedict plays Mma Ramotswe for most of the episodes up to 2016, with Janice Acquah playing the lead for the 2010 episodes, and from 2017 onwards.[12]

Related book

A cookbook associated with the novels was published in 2009; Mma Ramotswe's Cookbook by Stuart Brown, with a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith.[13]

References

  1. ^ a b O’Reilly, Elizabeth (2009). "Alexander McCall Smith: Critical Perspective". British Council on Literature. Retrieved 23 August 2017.
  2. ^ "The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency". Kirkus Reviews

    The BBC and American television network HBO filmed a series based on the books that stars Jill Scott as Mma Ramotswe and was shot on location in Botswana.[10] The 109-minute pilot was written by Richard Curtis and Anthony Minghella, who also directed.[10] The six 60-minute episodes were written and directed by others, as Mr Minghella died before the series was filmed.[11]

    Radio

    McCall Smith himself dramatised the series for BBC Radio 4. Thirty-five episodes have been broadcast, the first on 10 September 2004, and the most recent on 23 September 2019. The episodes encompass the first to the nineteenth books. Claire Benedict plays Mma Ramotswe for most of the episodes up to 2016, with Janice Acquah playing the lead for the 2010 episodes, and from 2017 onwards.[12]

    Related book

    A cookbook associated with the novels was published in 2009; Mma Ramotswe's Cookbook by Stuart Brown, with a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith.[13] <

    A cookbook associated with the novels was published in 2009; Mma Ramotswe's Cookbook by Stuart Brown, with a foreword by Alexander McCall Smith.[13]

    References

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