by Alexander McCall Smith

GENRE: cultural, detective fiction, humour

CEFR LEVEL: B1+ and above

“Women are the ones who know what’s going on. They are the ones with eyes.

Have you not heard of Agatha Christie?”

Alexander McCall Smith, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

Books can transport us anywhere, can’t they? Well, how does Botswana sound?

I recently recommended The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency to one of my strong intermediate-level students, Gloria. Why? Because this is a great novel for English learners, written in a simple and effective way and with short chapters. McCall Smith touches on some difficult topics but when you have a wonderful character like Mma Precious Ramotswe, Botswana’s leading (and only!) female private detective, it is difficult not to finish the book feeling uplifted and with a smile on your face!

Let’s see what Gloria has to say about it and if she agrees with me…


The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency is a story about an African woman who deeply loves her country and continent.


Precious Ramotswe is a fat and proud African woman, a real Mma, but before becoming an adult, the book tells us about her childhood and father’s life, all this against the African backdrop.

Education, culture, jobs, and diverse types of domestic and foreign exploitation in African mines … all these topics/issues take us to the heart of sub-Saharan Africa and portray their daily lives with their positives and negatives.

Once her father dies, Precious decides to buy a house and set up a detective agency, the first ladies’ detective agency in Botswana, but the real goal is to be a free and independent woman in a mostly sexist continent. After having different bad/negative experiences, she reached the conclusion that marriage would in fact prevent her from doing her job effectively.

In the book, you will be able to enjoy the cases that clients have entrusted to Precious and the evolution of her investigations.

However, the best is at the end of the reading. I invite you to discover it!

My opinion/conclusion

This has been my second book in English. In addition to learning vocabulary, structures and thinking that my level of the language may have improved, I have been excited, moved and amused by the development of the case investigations.

Moreover, the best part is to have the opportunity to get to know the different realities of the African continent and specifically, the life of a woman who overcomes obstacles with her common sense and her love for her perfectly imperfect land.

…So, what are you waiting for? Stop talking about reading more in English and start reading. As Mma Ramotse herself said,

“Talking about pumpkins doesn’t make them grow.” 😉

Mma Precious Ramotswe

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