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The Real Lady Detectives

Adrian Mudd   June 9, 2008

The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency novels were a phenomenon, but the books are based on real female detectives using real spy equipment.

Although the novels by Alexander McCall Smith are based on a fictitious detective agency, there is a real life female detective agency in South Africa that could have stepped off the pages of a novel. Real investigators use spy equipment for a whole host of mysteries including suspicions of infidelity.

Fascination with technology and techniques

The Ladies’ Detective Agency novels sold nine million copies world-wide demonstrating the huge fascination we have with spies, private investigators and the spy equipment and techniques they use. Ever since James Bond, the spy thriller has been popular, and judging by the success of these novels, it’s a winning genre. The rights to the novels were recently bought by Hollywood.

The capital of Zambia boasts a real-life detective agency with female investigators who use spy equipment to investigate a vast array of cases from locating missing secret agents to exposing immigration scams.


The female sleuths have said how they monitor their suspects closely through counter surveillance spy equipment. They will even go undercover to get information and have posed as hairdressers to get covert information.

Women make better spies

Women are seen to make good private investigators. It is thought women are better at handling spy equipment for surveillance work because they are better disciplined. The agency’s director in Zambia said men undercover in clubs who were using this tech to investigate infidelity suspicions, would often be compromised or be more susceptible to alcohol, whereas women have different priorities.

Spy chief was female

The James Bond image dictates good spies are macho and have a vast array of high tech spy gadgets. But Stella Rimington was the first female boss of M15 and now the current boss of the British Secret Service is also female.

Rimington served in all the major departments at M15 including counter-terrorism, counterespionage and counter-subversion so knew how to handle spy equipment as well as the men. Although she said she met resistance because of her sex she did things her way: “I was never a chap and I’m not going to behave in the same way as chaps behave. I never have and I never will,” she has been quoted as saying.