"The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency" On HBO

by Kathleen Costa

Fans of detective dramas set in the UK have a variety of options to find those entertaining programs. From PBS to network stations, online streaming to television subscriptions, there’s always something unique, quirky, and loads of fun with which to pass the time. For me, I accidentally came upon a marvelous detective “gem” that quickly grabbed my interest...The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency! Based on the novels by Alexander McCall Smith, it is currently airing on HBO until January, and because I also have XFinity On-Demand, I can enjoy over and over the whole season for a great weekend of binging!

YouTube - The Making of... (11:31)

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The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency earns 5+/5 Cups of Bush Tea...Clever & Heartwarming!

I greet you with a pleasant hello: "dumela rra" (doo-meh-lah rah) to a man and "dumela mma" (doo-meh-lah mah) to a woman.

Like any program of which I become a fan, it is important, of course, for the storyline and dialogue to be clever and engaging...in the case of this Botswana gem, check! Each episode has two or three interesting clients whose mysteries range from missing people to suspicious spousal behavior, from robberies to smuggling, from questionable business practices to fraud, from family misunderstandings to full blown life threatening squabbles. Each investigation taken on by the agency is resolved, but not always to the delight of the client, and always referring to the “Principles of Private Investigating” by Mr. Clovis Anderson. But, Mma Ramotswe believes, “It is a very good book, although I believe the best way to learn how to do something is to do it.” So she employs the surveillance techniques, writes copious notes, uses deductive reasoning and pleasant, informal questioning, and sometimes goes undercover, even if the outfit is too tight. Engaging. Entertaining. Even a touch of humor. As she says, “There’s no problem so great it cannot be solved by a cup of Bush tea.”
Image Source HBO
However, as engaging the stories, it is the characters that are always the star! Mma Precious Ramotswe (brilliantly portrayed by Jill Scott) is a strong, independent plus-size woman, although as she says, “I am of traditional build.” She loved her daddy who recently passed and left her 180 cows that she used the proceeds to move to Gabarone, buy a little house on Zebra Avenue, and open up The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in a former postal service building. Her cleverness and skill at solving other people’s problems comes from that which her father taught her: use your eyes, your ears, your memory, be patient, and love your country Botswana, the “greatest place on earth.” And since “women know more than men what’s going on...we notice things,” she is confident her detective agency will be a success. Dressed in her colorful shifts and headbands, she has a softer side, too, and a bit of sadness from a bad marriage and loss of a child, but she rises above these pains to help solve the problems of others.

YouTube - Interview Between Mma Ramotswe and Grace Makutsi (4:14)

Mma Grace Makutsi (perfect casting with Anika Noni Rose) is awkward, skinny, and fashionably challenged, but she is extremely organized and skilled having completed her work at the Botswana College of Secretarial and Office Skills with an unprecedented 97%. She still seeks employment having often lost out to a girl with a 42% and a very short skirt. She shows her “excellent” creativity using two typewriters to type reports. Why two? Well, each one is missing a different letter; together they are like one, except they are both awkwardly missing the “h“ letter. So for every hunch and hint to record, it’s every “unc” and “int.” She values accomplishment over fluff, and is a very loyal friend who also knows her own value, and takes on more responsibility as an assistant detective.
No 1 ladies detective agency
Image Source HBO
The “two and a half” male characters are invaluable and often wrangled into assisting Mma Ramotswe with her client’s case. Rra JLB Matekoni (Lucian Msamati) is a widower and owner of the Speedy Motors repair service. He rescued her when her van [truck] stalled on the road, and continues to come to her rescue with his mechanical expertise. He also likes her...loves her, and hopes that maybe she might feel the same. Then there’s BK (Desmond Dube), owner and head stylist of the Last Chance Hair Salon, who is her dear friend, a source of encouragement, and if she needs to know the latest on local gossip, he’s the one in the know. Finally, little Wellington, orphan and homeless, but very clever, gets a limited role as an assistant.

Good to know! It’s important to mention some of the notable guest stars that you might recognize: Colin Salmon (James Bond 1997-2002), David Oyelowo (Selma 2014), Idris Elba (Luther 2010-present; Mandela 2013), CCH Pounder (NCIS New Orleans 2014-present). Also don’t forget the beginning (YouTube - Opening) and ending credits. The animated artwork, simple, tapestry-like with a soothing African soundtrack, creatively revisits the storyline. I was impressed.

Sadly, very sadly, the series only saw one season in 2009 (90-min. pilot and six 50-min. episodes) leaving a few cliffhangers I would have liked resolved: the relationship between Mma Ramotswe and Rra Matekoni, the angry housekeeper, Mma Makutsi’s brother, and the future of all the people with problems. However, thankfully there are the twenty books by Alexander McCall Smith that continue the stories. And after reading the sample for the first book, The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (1998), I see there is so much the mini series didn’t include. I am excited to start there...

Bonus! I enjoyed this look at Botswana with experts and the cast of the mini series discussed it’s history, it culture, its current problems and issues, diamonds used for development, and how the mini series put Botswana on display. YouTube - Gem of Botswana (28:31)

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section in Kings River Life and in our mystery category here on KRL News & Reviews. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. And check out our new mystery podcast which features mystery short stories and first chapters read by local actors! A new episode went up this week.

Kathleen Costa is a long-time resident of the Central Valley, and although born in Idaho, she considers herself a “California Girl.” Graduating from CSU-Sacramento, she is a 35+ year veteran teacher having taught in grades 1-8 in schools from Sacramento to Los Angeles to Stockton to Lodi. Currently Kathleen is enjoying her retirement revitalizing hobbies along with exploring writing, reading for pleasure, and spending 24/7 with her husband.