The #1 Ladies Detective Agency

February 22nd, 2011

Now here’s a series that has been around for a long time that I couldn’t be bothered to read for far too long. I had heard about the #1 Ladies Detective Agency mystery series by Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith for years, but there was something about the title that made me squirm.  It seemed a bit blatant for my tastes.  Who names their business the number one of anything?   Some kind of ego-maniac?  Why would I want to read that?

But a few weeks ago while browsing among the shelves at a bookstore, I saw Tea Time for the Traditionally Built and I found this title appealing enough to offset the whole ‘#1 Ladies Detective Agency thing and so I purchased the book and brought it home.

Because first of all TEA

And second of all TRADITIONALLY BUILT!

The title seemed to embrace the sacred of tea while flying in the face of the perfection at the same time!

What more could you ask for in a book?

And I have not been disappointed.

I loved the book…


But I love the HBO television series based on the books by McCall Scott even more.

For one thing the main character Precious Ramotswe played so beautifully by R and B  singer/songwriter, Jill Scott is CONSTANTLY drinking TEA!  I mean non-stop tea drinking.  I mean tea drinking that can only be described as obsessive/compulsive tea drinking.  I love obsessive tea drinking.  And I love how Jill Scott brings Precious Ramotswe to life.

The rest of the characters in the series are equally appealing and often very quirky such as Grace Matuksi, the assistant to Precious Ramotswe.

And then there are the interiors!

The sets!

The natural surroundings!

The costumes!

The series was filmed in Botswana, where the books are also set, so the whole show has a look and feel that is beautifully distinct from any other television show I have ever watched.  Vivid African prints are set against a trim 1940s sensibility of feminine pastels and floral tea cups, thick high heels and smoothly coiffed hair-dos.  The tropical interiors are sparse, faded, pristine, and yet extremely homey .  There are kitchen scenes and garden scenes and office scenes and savannah scenes and suddenly out of nowhere a black mamba snake crawls across the road or two giraffe battle in the distance or a family of monkeys chatters on the roof.  At times the scenery in the series is so breathtaking, you lose sight of the storyline.

And then there are the graphics that accompany the show…

And the music…

If this show does not make you pant for a plane ticket to Botswana, I don’t know how to help you.

And have I told you how wonderful the characters are?

This is Precious Ramotswe the #1 detective of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency standing beside her assistant Grace Makutsi.

They sort of have a love/hate relationship with each other.

Precious is very practical and very much Marge in charge, but Grace is always yapping at her heels determined to make herself essential and important to the agency.  Plus – Grace wears great outfits that only she could pull off.

It took me a little while to get into this show.  Everything is so different.  The way the people talk, the clothing, the mannerisms, and the atmosphere.  It is not just set in a foreign country, it is almost set in a different time.  The combination of all these unique characteristics caused me to reject the show at first.  I needed something familiar to climb into the show.  Where was my skinny blond heroine wearing a black pant suit and a low cut blouse carrying a big gun on her hip while speaking in a clipped voice to her beefy masculine side-kick who is secretly in love with her and also secretly married…. to the mob….

But then

It took.

And I

Was hooked.

I only wish that HBO would make another season, but currently there are no plans to continue the show.

Thankfully there are eleven more books in this series for me to read.

I plan to enjoy each and every one.

And hopefully to drink some of that red bush tea in the near future.


  • Oooh I just signed up to get six months free of HBO and was thinking, what else would I watch there other than True Blood. I love these books, and the pictures of the characters look right to me. Looking forward to watching this.

    • Rechelle:

      I don’t know if HBO is still showing this series, but I certainly hope for your sake that they are. I watched the show via Netflix.

  • Mary:

    love the books, but didn’t know about the series. I must check this out.

  • nanne:

    what, to me, is so great about the hbo series and the books is that even though horrible things happen, there are evil people, real problems that countries like botswana face are addressed & precious is no dumby…there is an innocence, a belief that good has a chance to win out, a gentleness, almost an old world feel to these books/series. novels & hbo series do not have to be dark & bloody to resonate.

    nanne in indiana by way of alabama

  • Anoria:

    Eleven books! I picked up the second in the series, “Tears of the Giraffe,” at a used book sale because my roommate at the time was in love with giraffes and Africa and I thought she’d enjoy it. She did, but the book ended up back in my possession, and I loved it too. I found the first book at a garage sale, tried to start it this summer but got sidetracked, and just picked it up again a day or two ago. Thanks for the reminder of what I was missing :)

    And I guess I’ll have to track down the HBO adaptations soon too. It’ll be nice strong-arming my fiancé into watching something I was into first, for once..

    The stories – writing, characters, scenery – are beautiful in every way. I’m glad all your readers now know this too..

  • I haven’t read any in this series yet, though I suppose I should. However, one of the funniest books I’ve ever read is his “The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs” – I guffawed aloud numerous times reading that one.

    Never has a book about a philologist being mistaken for a veteraniarian been funnier!

    “Welcome to the insane and rarified world of Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld of the Institute of Romance Philology. Von Igelfeld is engaged in a never-ending quest to win the respect he feels certain he is due-a quest which has the tendency to go hilariously astray. In The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs, Professor Dr. Von Igelfeld is mistaken for a veterinarian and not wanting to call attention to the faux pas, begins practicing veterinary medicine without a license. He ends up operating on a friend’s dachshund to dramatic and unfortunate effect. He also transports relics for a schismatically challenged Coptic prelate, and is pursued by marriage-minded widows on board a Mediterranean cruise ship.”

  • Cindy Jagnandan:

    I can’t remember what got me started reading this series a couple of years ago, but since then I have been hooked, have read all of the No. 1 Ladies’ series as well as all of McCall Smith’s Isabelle Dalhousie and 44 Scotland Street series, but the No. 1 Ladies’ series is my fave by far. Also loved the HBO series, especially the portrayal of Grace Makutsi, I like her even better in the show than I did in the books. Forget visiting Botswana, this made me want to live there! Oh, and for a genuine experience, enjoy with a cup (or several) of Twining’s African Red Bush tea :-)

  • Lea:

    I have read most of Andrew McCall Smith’s books and have enjoyed them very much. What comes through in the #1 Ladies….books is his love of Botswana. If you want to experience his charm and humor listen to this podcast from CBC, The Next Chapter. The link to the podcast is toward the bottom of page, an absolutely wonderful interview.

  • sheila:

    One of our favorites too! I am currently working my way through Portuguese Irregular Verbs. Love everything Alexander McCall Smith writes.

  • Michelle:

    I was so disappointed when I found out that HBO wasn’t going to continue this series. I enjoyed it so much! There was a rumor that they might make a movie, though.

  • AmeliaJake:

    My mother, who passed away (okay, DIED) in October of 2009 spent much time on the phone telling me about this series of books. I will never see the name Alexander McCall Smith without hearing Mother’s voice enthusiastically telling me about some section she had just finished reading.

    Well, I don’t know why I wrote this: I guess I just had to share it.

    • Mo:

      I’m so sorry about your mother AmeliaJake. My mom passed away (ok DIED) (that made me laugh) 4 1/2 years ago so I know exactly why you posted that. I still have all out conversations with mine in my head. It’s theraputic!

      • AmeliaJake:

        Well, Mo, thanks for the thoughts; I think here on Rechelle’s comment pages, people feel they can share and then, well, after something like your reply, we know we are not alone.