BBC Radio 4 produced a series of audio dramas based on Alexander McCall Smith’s massively successful No. 1 Ladies Detective novels which follow the adventures of Precious Ramotswe (Claire Benedict) as she uses her inheritance to establish the first ever detective agency in Botswana for “ladies and others.”
The radio adaptations is done by Smith himself and the first casebook is eight episodes adapted from the first four novels in the series. The radio plays do a great job capturing the warmth and charm of the characters in the book with many bits of dialogue taken directly from the books.
The episodes have a much stronger focus on the mystery element than the books do. The earlier mystery plots tend to be a bit more complex and interesting such as when Ma Ramotswe finds clues that indicate a missing boy may have fallen into the hands of witch doctors and helps a woman who’s not sure the man claiming to be her long-lost father really is. Later we have cases that are more domestic such as a middle-aged man who wants to find a woman he robbed and a girl he wronged to settle his affairs in life.
The theme music is a nice and catchy African theme that makes a solid lead-in for the series.
Not everything from the books is included in the adaptations, but what is omitted mostly isn’t problematic. The two minor exceptions to this is that the audio drama doesn’t address that Ma Ramotswe moved her office from its original location to inside the same building as her fiance Mr. J. L. B, Matekoni’s auto repair business. That was jarring. Nor is it portrayed that Ma Ramotswe’s Secretary/Assistant Detective Ma Makutsi doubled as Assistant Manager of the garage. Omitting that begs the question of how Matekoni’s business survived a long illness in the middle of the series.
However, as the audio dramas stick close to the books, most of the faults come from the books. For example, the series has a habit of raising plot points that disappoint. For example, in one episode, Matekoni’s maid hatches a plot to have Ma Ramotswe sent to prison. In another, a male detective opens up a practice and uses his being male as a selling point for his business. Both of these ideas are resolved in the most anti-climatic way possible.
Still, for all their faults, there’s a reason the No. 1 Ladies Detective series books are so popular. These first eight episodes capture the charm of the book series almost perfectly. If you’re looking for a light mystery series with likable and interesting characters, this set will definitely hit the spot.
Rating: 4.0 out of 5.0
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