Scottish Successes: The Phenomenon of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

Alexander McCall Smith is a prolific writer and creator of such beloved characters as Professor Dr Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld, Isabel Dalhousie, the residents of 44 Scotland Street, and the children's character of Akimbo. But none has had the global success of Mma Ramotswe, proprietor of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, Gaborone, Botswana.

Alexander McCall Smith

McCall Smith began his writing career as the author of medical law textbooks, before branching out into children's fiction. His first children's novel, The Perfect Hamburger, appeared in 1984. When No.1 Ladies'... was first published by a small press based in Edinburgh called Polygon (who were then part of EUP) in 1998, it was not an instant success. It took several good reviews, some mentions from Booker judges and more importantly, word of mouth before the world woke up to the delights of the 'traditionally built' lady detective. McCall Smith went on to write eight further titles featuring Mma Ramotswe.

Over 15 million copies of the Ramotswe books have been sold, the series has been translated into 44 languages, making the Rhodesian-born McCall Smith a real Scottish success story.

The Books

Cover of the first edition of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

"The Miss Marple of Botswana." - The New York Times Book Review

Alexander McCall Smith's bestselling series begins with the title novel, The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. This book tells the story of Precious Ramotswe, a cunning and enormously engaging woman who inherits her father's cattle herd, but sells it to start a new life for herself. However, there were not many opportunities in Botswana for a woman, so she decides to set up the first female-run private detective agency, in Botswana at least. She is drawn to the profession to "help people with problems in their lives". It seems a venture doomed to failure, but she is quickly hired to uncover a con man, follow a wayward daughter, and track down a missing husband. However, it is the case of a missing eleven-year-old boy (who may have been snatched by witchdoctors) that really tugs at her heartstrings, and ultimately lands her in danger.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series has won many prizes, with the book receiving two Booker Judges' Special Recommendations, as well as being voted one of the International Books of the Year and the Millennium by the Times Literary Supplement. McCall Smith won Author of the Year at the British Book Awards 2004, and was appointed CBE in 2007 for his services to literature.

The Film

Jill Scott and others filming The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency

The film of the book was directed by Anthony Minghella from a script he co-wrote with Richard Curtis. Sadly, Minghella died just days before the film was broadcast on the BBC in March 2008.

The film stars African-American jazz singer Jill Scott as Mma Ramotswe, Lucian Msamati as Mr J. L. B. Matekoni and Anika Noni Rose as Mma Makutsi. The film was a pilot for a television series, created by the BBC and American cable channel HBO, which is due to start filming in 2008.

"One of the most delightful offerings to appear on our television screens over Easter" - Max Hastings

The Country

The books are set in Gaborone, the capital city of the Southern Africa state of Botswana, one of the most stable and prosperous of African countries. Botswana's wealth comes mainly from mining; diamonds originally, but increasingly uranium and other metals. Tourism - inspired in part by the No. 1 Ladies' series - is a growing part of the local economy.