Monday, October 23, 2006

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith

In this delightful second installment in Alexander McCall Smith's bestselling new detective series, the irrepressibly curious Isabel Dalhousie, editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, gets caught up in an affair of the heart - this one a transplant.

When Isabel's niece, Cat, asks Isabel to run her delicatessen while she attends a wedding in Italy, Isabel meets a man with a most interesting problem. He recently had a heart transplant and is suddenly plagued with memories of events that never happened to him. The situation appeals to Isabel as a philosophical question: Is the heart truly the seat of the soul? And it piques her insatiable curiosity: Could the memories by connected with the donor's demise? Of course, Grace - Isabel's no-nonsense housekeeper - and Isabel's friend Jamie think it is none of Isabel's business. Meanwhile, Cat brings home an Italian lothario, who, in accordance with all that Isabel knows about Italian lotharios, shouldn't be trusted....but, goodness, he is charming.

That makes two mysteries of the heart to be solved - just the thing for Isabel Dalhousie.
I am a big fan of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by this author, so when he started a new series featuring Isabel Dalhousie I was very excited to read it. I was however a little disappointed. The main character seemed a bit too intellectual, too pompous, too.....something. It has therefore taken me nearly a year to get around to picking up the second book.

This time I guess either my expectations weren't quite so high, or maybe the book was better. There were still the obligatory (or so it seems) mentions of opera and literature, lots of contemplation (what do you expect from a philosopher) and even a couple of laugh out loud moments, including one when Isabel asks a married woman who is having an affair with her friend what her husband does for a living, as well as an entertaining visit to a session with a medium.

I do think that maybe this character is a bit too highbrow for me. At times she mentioned WH Auden throughout the novel. I thought I was doing okay in knowing who she was talking about, but I couldn't figure out why there was no mention of trains. Eventually I realised that WH Auden is not Rev W Awdrey, author of the Thomas the Tank Engine stories! Whoops!

In this installment Isabel is occupied with matters of the heart - her own, her housekeeper Grace's, her nieces, her friend Jamie. The conundrum that Isabel faces in relation to her own heart is quite interesting. Is a young man her niece's age too young for her to be half in love with, and the moments of angst around this are very subtle and well written.

The other affair of the heart that is occupying her mind, is the question of whether the heart can hold memories. She meets a man who has been the recipient of a heart transplant, and since then he has been having memories about a man who he doesn't ever remember meeting, memories that cause him pain, and Isabel sets out to discover who this man is and why memories of him cause so much pain.

It amazes me how prolific Alexander McCall Smith is. Not only is he writing the Ladies Detective Agency series, this series, plus a couple of kids series, plus goodness knows what else. It always seems as though there is something new coming out.

BTW Doppelganger over at 50 Books has a link to a podcast that has an interview with Alexander McCall Smith - he has a voice you could listen to for hours!

Rating - A much better 4/5


  1. You won't believe me, but the lines I always associate with WH Auden are about trains, from his poem The Night Mail:
    This is the night mail crossing the border
    Bringing the cheque and the postal order
    Pulling up Beattock, a steady climb
    The gradient's against her but she's on time
    Shovelling white steam over her shoulder
    Letters of thanks, letters from banks
    Letters of joy from girl to boy

    (I can't remeber any more offhand - Link here if you want to read the whole thing.)
    Obviously I have a thing about trains because I also loved Thomas the Tank Engine as a kid.

  2. My brother was the one with the thing for Thomas, but we certainly got exposed to it a lot!!

    Cool poem. I liked it! Thanks.



Related Posts with Thumbnails

  © Blogger template Simple n' Sweet by 2009

Back to TOP