This book is the fourth of a series, and as usual with series, follows about a character or a set of characters. Isabel Dalhousie is the protagonist of this one. She is very interesting: philosopher, editor of The Review of Applied Ethics
, unmarried mother of a boy whose father is her niece Cat's ex-boyfriend and fourteen years her junior. Isabel keeps on a running monologue in her head which the reader is privy to: this is the main charm of the novel.
This novel, though standalone, presumably picks up from where it left off last time and moves its serene way forward. There are no earthshaking events, no moments of truth which allows characters to grow beyond their humdrum existence; these are your friends next door whose adventures are limited to the marriage of a cousin, the birth of a nephew or that long-awaited trip to Europe. Important things happen to Isabel, of course. She almost loses her editorship before she turns the table smartly on her opponents; she makes up with her estranged niece; and solves a relatively lukewarm mystery of a long-dead painter. All very interesting, however, but nothing very remarkable. Other than Alexander McCall Smith's prose, that is.
Speaking as a man who loves the music of language for its own sake, reading this book was sheer pleasure. Alexander McCall Smith writes really beautiful English, from an era when stories were usually not peppered with (to borrow from Wodehouse)"words most often heard in a lower type of bar." See a sample below, where he is talking about a painting collection put up for auction:This collection had been put together by a businessman who had done well with a small oil company and had attracted attention by his colourful, and tactless, remarks. The oil wells were on the shores of the Caspian, in one of those republics that people are not quite sure about-where it is and who runs it-and had suddenly dried up. There had been mutterings about geological reports and manipulations at the other end, and the share price had plummeted. The sale of the Colourists was the result, along with the sale of a Highland sporting estate and a small fleet of expensive vintage cars. Of course people were sympathetic, but secretly delighted, as they are whenever those who boast of their wealth take a tumble.
See how a few deft strokes, humorous, empathetic, and mildly sarcastic paints a picture in the mind of the reader.
The only thing that was a mild source of irritation was the frequent POV shift between Isabel and Jamie, her boyfriend. However, in the midst of such writing, such minor drawbacks can be excused.
The verdict? Not your Nobel-winning tome, but something to curl up with a glass of Scotch at the end of a tiring day.