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Alexander McCall Smith's War Tale

Alexander McCall Smith brings to life a whole world in Africa — Botswana — with his “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” series.

There are always strong female characters, and criminal capers filled with wit and life wisdom.

But McCall Smith brings other worlds to life as well. This time out, he’s exploring rural England in the harrowing midst of World War II — and the power of music to pull people through.

We speak with Alexander McCall Smith about his novel “La’s Orchestra Saves the World.”

-Tom Ashbrook

Note: This show was first broadcast Dec. 15, 2009.


Alexander McCall Smith, bestselling author of more than 60 books and creator of The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. His latest book is “La’s Orchestra Saves the World.” He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh.

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  • Julia Pancake Rankin, NC

    “The Bastard Fairies” are pulling me through this Wartail nightmare in 21st Century Belmont, NC. You’d think listeners would tire of war romance after hearing Chris Hedges last week. Where will the next generation of predator drones, for domestic use , be manufactured? Could it be-e-e-e China?
    “People talk of politics, and people talk of waw-er,
    an’ I don’t know why they get so upset.”
    Yellow Thunder Woman

  • Martin

    50 MILLION Americans now unable to get or afford healthcare insurance and your programme is talking about Musk Ox and war romances?? Where is the outrage in this country!!!!???

  • Jordan Davies

    I love all of the McCall Smith books I have read, not all of them, but the Number One Ladies Detective Series and the Isabel Dalhousie books are my favorites. These have I think brilliant portrayals of women. Great reading and beautifully crafted.

  • David Beguin

    I am interested in Emotional Intelligence and how to teach it. Mr McCall Smith in his writing does a beautiful job of illuminting inner thought and how it can wend towards wisdom. I always feel that I have grown. His writing is intelligent and emotional.
    Plattsburgh, NY

  • M. Jean

    Alexander McCall Smith’s books are a great read. Thanks for rebroadcasting this story. To Martin, I share your outrage about healthcare. I work directly with people who have no healthcare. However, OnPoint has done several shows about healthcare in the last year. Two in the last two months. I hope you channel your outrage into advocacy as I do.

  • Priscilla

    I fell in love with Alexander McCall Smith’s writing while I was taking care of my mother at the end of her life. I listened to all the Ladies #1 Detective Agency CDs (available up to that time) as I drove back and forth to my mother’s home, several times weekly for 6 years.

    I enjoyed the lush descriptive writing and beautiful humanity of the characters so much, that I listened to each book more than once.

    I am now listening to the Isabel Dalhousie stories, and will likely continue with all of his writing. I am a writer and have taught writing to children, and especially appreciate his excellence in craft and art, and the redemptive humanity of his characters. They are people who I would be honored to have as friends.

    With these books, this is the first time I have collected an author’s writings without every buying a print book. All of these I own on CD, and just bought two more of his books on CD last week. Alexander McCall Smith is my driving companion, and I couldn’t ask for better company.

  • Andrea

    I LOVE both the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series and the #1 Ladies Detective Agency. I have a long commute and find his books so enjoyable to decompress to on my way home. The HBO series had oth my mother & pre-teen daughter hooked. Great to hear you’re still writing

  • http://www.melgreensings.com Mel Green

    On a whim, I bought Alexander McCall Smith’s “Lady’s No, 1 Detective Agency” and read it with delight and ultimately was effected by the huge amount of nostalgia that the book caused to well up in me. I was born and brought up in Johannesburg, and what I remember vividly from my childhood years were the wonderful Nannies I had… some of them came from Botswana… they taught me courtesy and respect, showed me love, and in my adult years these subtly- taught lessons helped to shape me and turn me into the person I am today. I want to thank Alexander McCall Smith for his wonderful works, which I treasure for their their gentle humor as well as their realism and grit.
    On the musical side, one other person work engendered that great nostalgia for Africa… Paul SImon’s “Graceland” … I look forward to reading his new book with much anticipation.

  • http://MStarArts.org Carol Greenberg

    You asked to identify the charm of the writing. The characters are simple but not juvenile, recognizable but creative, sensitive without being sappy and his female characters strong and amazingly accurate in their sensibilities– so much so I was initially amazed to find out the author was male. I started and completed reading the ten books of the No. 1 Series while trying to increase both memory and reading skills after extensive chemotherapy. I thought since I had seen the TV series the characters at least were familiar even if the situations required more than one reading to keep in my mind. I am very pleased to say that by the time I read the Isabel Dalhousie and Irregular Verb Series, I was retaining and anticipating plot twists and my love of the spoken word was slowly restored. Thank you for consistency of excellence, texturally rich characters, civil discourse, interesting moral conundrums that add humor and hope even to this “chemo brain” situation.

  • Miriam Aniel

    I am a big fan of Alexandar McCall Smith’s books, especially the Isabel Dalhousie series. What’s not to love–a powerful, independent female protaganist who faces dilemmas we all are familiar with: to be or not to be involved in other peoples’ business. I also love his “How La’s Orchestra Saved the Wolrd’, a fasinating and touching story about Wolrd War II. Plus, his wonderful descriptions of England and Scotland so inspired me that I applied to college in the UK this year, and am planning to attend Saint Andrews University in Scotland!

  • Miriam D Mazor

    I am from the Boston area, and have a long commute to work. I am an ardent fan of all of the Alexander McCall Smith series. I listen to the books on CD’s in the car, and they make the drive absolutely wonderful. I don’t mind getting stuck in traffic, and sometimes I have “driveway moments” when I sit in the car in order to hear the last track or two. The readers add immensely to my pleasure. Lisette Lecat is a treasure, and I sometimes “hear” her voice when I look at the print editions of the “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.” Right now I am immersed in the “44 Scotland Street” series and delight in hearing Robert Ian Mackenzie read the books.

  • Kaye

    From Columbia, South Carolina by way of New York, New York: This was a great program. I have been an Alexander McCall Smith fan for a number of years. Love Bertie and the whole of the 44 Scotland Street series but am MADLY in love the characters in the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency. Mr. Smith’s insight with the Black African people and women in general is uncanny. Haven’t read The Sunday Philosophy Club series, yet but, I will be shortly.

    To those who thinks we should endlessly worry and like or dislike the work of an author based o his or her orientation I say this – Sometimes everyone needs a respite. If we were to deal only with problems, having no levity, then I fear that we all would be on antidepressants. When we lean to be accepting of others despite our differences, I promise, we would all be living longer and better.

    How small we become when we dare to judge others.

    Rock on Mr. Smith!

  • JStars

    And let us not forget that old favorite “The Finer Points Of Sausage Dogs” … a classic ..

    Just finished listening to “#1LDA: The Double Comfort Safari Club” on the way home during the blizzard on Sunday. Sure made the slow traffic bearable (and yeah … NOTHING much even seems to happen in those novels and that is the way it should be).


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