Alexander McCall Smith has revolutionized the mystery genre with his delightful African heroine, Precious Ramotswe. Set in the southern African nation of Botswana, The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency introduces us to Mma Ramotswe and the charming folks that comprise the cast of characters in this unique new series.
Mma Ramotswe is the daughter of the well-respected cattle farmer and diamond miner Obed Ramotswe. He leaves her with a modest inheritance and a herd of cattle, and Mma Ramotswe decides to become the only lady detective in Botswana, in order to "help people with the problems in their lives." In order to establish a proper office, Mma Ramotswe hires a secretary, the headstrong Mma Makutsi, an outstanding graduate of the Botswana Secretarial College who scored 97% on her final examinations.
Clients are instantly drawn to this clever detective, and Mma Ramotswe immediately has her hands full. Her first cases involve a missing husband, a secretive daughter of a wealthy family, and a devious car thief. While her cases are not overly complicated, Mma Ramotswe nevertheless solves them cleverly and with ease.
We are also introduced to Mr J.L.B. Matekoni, proprietor of Tkokweng Road Speedy Motors and one of the most respected mechanics in Botswana. Mr J.L.B Matekoni has long pined for Mma Ramotswe, and she finally agrees to marry him after repeated proposals.
The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency is a joy to read, thanks to Mr. McCall Smith's engaging and unique writing style. As the author is originally from Africa, you get the sense that he is using the true dialects and writing styles of the region. Mma Ramotswe is often referred to as being of "traditional build", as are many of the women in Botswana. No one is referred to by their first names, everyone is addressed formally, using Mma, Mr, and Rra as salutations. Mr. McCall Smith also uses certain descriptive phrases in an endearing way - for example, Mma Ramotswe's vehicle is always described as the "tiny white van."
As it is the first novel in the series, there is much more background on Mma Ramotswe and her family than in the other books, but this helps to establish her character, and thus the reader has a better understanding of her motivation for actions in the later books.