No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency: The House of Unexpected Sisters [Book Review]

December 1, 2017

Before Louise Penny’s popular Inspector Gamache series set in Three Pines, there was Mma Precious Ramotswe of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series set in Botswana, Africa.

No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency: The House of Unexpected Sisters
by Alexander McCall Smith

House of Unexpected Sisters 2

Genre/categories: Women’s Fiction, Contemporary Fiction, Gentle Mystery, Amateur Sleuths, African culture (Botswana), “UpLit”

My Summary:

The House of Unexpected Sisters is the eighteenth installment of this charming, easy-reading series. All the usual characters are present, reflecting on life, drinking tea, embracing tradition, and investigating human nature in sunny Botswana. In this newest story, Mma Ramotswe is challenged with four problems to solve: she is asked to investigate the unfair firing of a female employee, she is faced with an unwelcome visit from someone in her past, she learns about a potential risk to her assistant’s husband’s business, and she bravely meets an unexpected family member that causes her to question the integrity of her beloved father who is “late.” Loyal readers will be rewarded with a delightful read.

Amazon Rating (December): 4.6 Stars

My Thoughts: 

My favorite of the series!

In the most soothing of ways, The House of Unexpected Sisters is predictable to the other stories in the series: readers grow to appreciate the beauty of Africa (Botswana is almost a character in the story); there’s always time for a cup of tea at work or a visit with your dearest friend and confidant (Mma Potokwani); and the characters are likable, quirky, and seem real. Mma Ramotswe founder and owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, is a “traditionally built woman,” gentle, honest, inclusive, compassionate, full of common sense, thoughtful, gracious, and wise. In fact, she always chooses kindness and forgiveness as her response and never revenge. Idealistically, she believes that people are good and kind and want to enjoy themselves and take care of each other. She is a proponent of the old Botswana morality and the traditional ways (especially the old way of greeting others). The focus of her work at the Ladies’ Detective Agency is on righting small injustices.

“Both of these matters had been resolved satisfactorily, which meant in Mma Ramotswe’s view that all those concerned had been persuaded to see reason. That, she felt, was the key to the solution of any problem: you did not look for a winner who would take everything; you found a way of allowing people to save face; you found a way of healing rather than imposing.”

It seems as if Alexander McCall Smith enjoys these characters as they are consistently and warmly drawn from story to story. From the way the story is told, readers might infer that the author greatly admires and respects his main character and her philosophy of life.

Family is an important theme in this heartwarming story (and in the others).  Precious Ramotswe takes care of everyone who comes into her life as family.

“Families come in different ways, she thought: sometimes they are given to you, but sometimes you find them yourself, unexpectedly, as you go through life. That is perhaps not all that well-known, but it is still true.”

Even though this is an eighteen book series, readers could easily read The House of Unexpected Sisters as a stand alone. It might be a little tedious or repetitive for readers who’ve read all the stories, but Alexander McCall Smith does an excellent job of providing all the background information a reader needs to understand the story and characters.

I’ve read all the books in the series and I think this one stands out as one of the best. If it’s been a while since you’ve read one, I’d encourage you to pick this up.

I admit that my rating of 4 stars is subjective because reading these books is like coming home to old friends. If I had read this as a stand alone and didn’t have an emotional attachment to the series or characters, I think my objective rating would be 3.5.

I recommend The House of Unexpected Sisters to those readers who are familiar with the series, for readers who love Africa, for readers who desire a quick, easy, escapist read, for readers who need a comforting read at the moment (perhaps to relieve stress or to take on vacation or to recover from a surgery), and for readers who enjoy a touch of humor (no graphic violence, profanity, or sex).

I caution readers against binge reading or speed reading the series. They are best read as stand alone stories…perhaps one every few months. Even though it’s comforting to return to the homes of old friends, I think life might be boring if every evening were spent with them. The books in this series need to be read when you’re in the mood for a slow-paced, character-driven story with an abundance of reflection and description. It could be classified as the coziest of the cozy mysteries genre and a true comfort read. It seems that we always feel like we can be better people after spending time with Precious Ramotswe.

cup of tea

Make yourself a cup of tea, and read this for yourself and meet kind, gracious, and compassionate Mma Precious Ramotswe!

My rating: 4 Stars


House of Unexpected Sisters

The House of Unexpected Sisters Information Here

Meet the Author, Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith was born in what is now Zimbabwe and taught law at the University of Botswana. He is now Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh. He has written more than fifty books, including a number of specialist titles, but is best known for The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, which has achieved bestseller status on four continents. In 2004 he was awarded British Book Awards Author of the Year and Booksellers Association Author of the Year. He lives in Scotland, where in his spare time he is a bassoonist in the RTO (Really Terrible Orchestra). More information at


I’d love to hear if you’ve read any of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series.

Happy Reading Bookworms!

“Ah, how good it is to be among people who are reading.”
~Rainer Maria Rilke

“I love the world of words, where life and literature connect.”
~Denise J Hughes

“Reading good books ruins you for enjoying bad ones.”
~Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Looking Ahead!

Help me decide between Lincoln in the Bardo and The Bear and the Nightingale
for my next read.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve read either one.

Lincoln in the Bardo

Lincoln in the Bardo Information Here

The Bear and the Nightingale

The Bear and the Nightingale Information Here

***12/2, edited to add that I’ve chosen The Bear and the Nightingale as my next read. (I suggested to hubs that we could buddy read Lincoln in the Bardo and after he listened a bit to the audio version, he decided that it wasn’t a good read for him.)

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    • You’re right, it does!…..and… soon as I hit “publish” on the post and checked my email, I had a notice from the library that my hold on it was available! Maybe that’s my sign…..except…..I had asked hubs last week if he would be interested in doing “Lincoln” as a buddy read with me and he JUST asked me “Are we starting Lincoln” tonight?! Ugh! I’ve heard great reviews for Nightingale and more mixed reviews for Lincoln (but it did win the Man Booker Prize). #readingprobs Thanks for stopping by to comment!

  1. I tried to read Lincoln in the Bardo and found it a bit strange but some compelling characters and stories of the dead trying to hold on to being alive. Sometimes hard to put down and other times, hard to keep reading. Overall, depressing rather than memorable.

    • Hi Gail! Thanks for commenting! That’s an interesting reading experience you had! I have heard others recommend the audio version….do you think that would have made any difference for you?

  2. […] I’ve read all 21 installments! Overall, the books fall into the literary fiction genre, are heavily character-driven, and are solid 3-star reads. Some installments are more plot-driven than others (especially the earlier installments). The lovely setting of Botswana, the charming characters, the gentle themes, and thoughtful musings have kept me engaged in the series. Each installment is a pure comfort read. One of my favorites is The House of Unexpected Sisters. […]

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