Mma Precious Ramotswe is a large lady, so much so that her elderly car has developed a permanent dip on the driver’s side. But the heroine of Alexander McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series can make an advantage of any disadvantage. She is, she explains, full of national pride, ‘a Lady of Traditional Build’. All the other ladies and gentlemen – the Mmas and Rras of McCall Smith’s fictional Botswana – perfectly understand this distinction.
When her father dies she is left a little money and, having escaped from her no-good husband, the handsome but wicked musician Note Makoti – who will resurface later in the series to torment her – Precious decides to set up a detective agency. She names it The Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency, something she can legitimately do as is the only ladies detective agency in Botswana.
Imaginative business names are a feature of the series and part of the ongoing entertainment. Some of my favourites are Tlokweng Road Speedy Motors, The Kalahari Typing School for Men, The Double Comfort Safari Club and – best of all in my view – the Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon.
I have never visited the real Botswana and am never likely to, and so I can continue to enjoy the comforting illusion that Botswana is an earthly paradise, the most civilised, the most beautiful, the most fertile place on earth, and filled with the loveliest and kindest of people, as Mma Ramotswe believes. She is naturally positive and has a knack for solving the everyday problems of her fellow Batswana with a combination of luck, common sense and excellent people skills.
As the series goes on we are introduced to a huge cast of eccentric characters. Among others there are Mma Ramotswe’s second husband Mr J L B Matekoni, and her spikey and scarily ambitious sidekick Grace Makutsi – she of the unfortunate skin, the big glasses and the down-at-heel background in an out-of-the-way village, who conducts an ongoing conversation with her shoes. There is Violet Sephotho, that ‘Jezebel’ from secretarial college; there are Grace’s eventual husband Phuti Radiphuti and her eventual baby, the impressively named Itumelang Clovis Radiphuti. If you are one of the few people on the planet haven’t come across this series or seen the TV version, give it a go. You’ll probably love it. I say probably because there are people out there who don’t like Harry Potter, so anything is possible.
Tea Time for the Traditionally Built is number 10 in a series of 16, and very shortly to be 17 for, I have just discovered, the latest in the series is actually due for publication tomorrow, the 7th of September. Now there’s a coincidence! Unfortunately I am going to have to wait until the cheaper and more convenient paperback/second-hand version comes out in six months or so, but at least I know it’s out there, and waiting … It’s called: