No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

Precious Ramotswe is a “traditionally built” woman who founded and runs the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. She is known throughout Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, for her wisdom and her street smarts. She is also reflective, unfailingly kind, truthful, and patient to an almost superhuman degree. She would have to be to put up with her rude and self-centered assistant, Grace Makutsi.

A charming series of novels

The relationship between the two women is the principal theme of Precious and Grace, the latest addition to Alexander McCall Smith‘s charming series of novels about the agency. Mma (Ms.) Makutsi has always pushed her boss to the limits of her patience. But never before has Mma Ramotswe come so perilously close to lying as in this 17th novel in the series. Shockingly, she is even forced to withhold information that will anger Mma Makutsi! “We are the people we want ourselves to be, and then there are the people we actually are: sometimes it is easier to be the people we want ourselves to be if we keep at least some things to ourselves. That, thought Mma Ramotswe, is only human.”

Precious and Grace (No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency #17) by Alexander McCall Smith (2016) 241 pages ★★★★★ 

As in the preceding novels in the series, several subplots unfold in Precious and Grace. Fanwell, the newly promoted junior mechanic in the garage that shares space with the agency, has picked up a stray dog that refuses to return to its home. The agency’s part-time volunteer assistant, Mr. Polopetsi, has been naively promoting a pyramid scheme. And a Canadian woman has come to Gaborone seeking the agency’s help in finding the nanny who raised her when she was child in Botswana. Complications erupt each of these problems as Mma Ramotswe looks for solutions. She solves all the problems, of course. But never in a straight line from beginning to end. The twists and turns are part of the charm of this entertaining little book.

Celebrating Africa through the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

Through the character of Mma Ramotswe, McCall Smith celebrates an idealized image of Africa. However, he could hardly have picked a likelier setting than Botswana. Botswana is one of the most remarkable countries in Africa if not in the world as a whole. The country has been democratically ruled since it gained independence from Britain in 1964. One of Mma Ramotswe’s heroes, Sir Seretse Khama, set the pattern of peace and stability as Botswana’s first president. Since the 1960s, the country has lifted itself from dire poverty into mid-range income. This, despite the fact of mineral wealth that in other countries has simply enriched a small elite. For many years the nation has been one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. However, Botswana also has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS prevalence on the planet, with more than 15% of the country’s two million people infected.

About the author

McCall Smith—yes, that is his last name—is clearly in love with Botswana, where he lived for years and taught law at the national university he co-founded in Gaborone. An expert in medical law and ethics, he lives in Edinburgh, where he taught at the university for many years. McCall Smith is an extraordinarily prolific author. In addition to the 17 novels in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, he has written scores of novels in other series as well as 13 books on medical law and related topics.

For additional reading

This is one of 20 top books about Africa, including both fiction and nonfiction.

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