Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith

For kind, curious, philosophically minded Isabel Dalhousie, editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, getting through life with a clear conscience requires careful thought. And with the arrival of baby Charlie, not to mention a passionate relationship with his father Jamie, fourteen years her junior, Isabel enters deeper and rougher waters.

Late motherhood is not the only challenge facing Isabel. Even as she negotiates a truce with her furious niece Cat, and struggles for authority over her son with her formidable housekeeper Grace, Isabel finds herself drawn into the story of a painter's mysterious death off the island of Jura. Perhaps most seriously of all, Isabel's professional existence and that of her beloved Review come under attack from the machiavellian and suspiciously handsome Professor Dove.

A master storyteller whether debating ethics in Edinburgh or pursuing lady detectives in Africa, here Alexander McCall Smith is as witty and wise as his irresistibly spirited heroine.

Please note that there will be spoiler for the earlier books in this series in this review! Can't be helped...sorry!

There have been significant changes for Isabel Dalhousie since the last book in this series. Yes, she is still the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, but she is now also involved in a relationship and has had a child, at a somewhat late stage in her life.

Much of this book is preoccupied with what happens now that Charlie is in her life and the impact that it has had, from taking the car instead of walking, to the fact that her faithful housekeeper is giving her son gripe water without Isabel's knowledge, to why isn't her niece Cat enamoured with Charlie and how can the relationship between Cat and Isabel be repaired given everything that has happened.

There was also a bit about money in this book. It has also been clear that Isabel is quite wealthy, but in this book it is more of an issue than it has ever been, influencing some of the decisions that are made, and also in terms of how different people see Isabel (and others like her) who think nothing of dropping 20000 pounds on a painting for example. There were just a couple of times that I found myself thinking that Isabel was lucky to still be able to go to art auctions, theatre events etc etc which I could never have been free to do as the mother of a young child, but interestingly enough, the author also had Isabel thinking about some of these same issues as well

The sections about the mystery of the painting that Isabel nearly purchases is interesting. Whilst I think these books were originally marketed as mysteries, they are not true mysteries in that the mysteries are very often less obvious than who killed who, and this is a similarity between this series and the more famous and popular No 1 Detective Agency books by this same author.

I think I mentioned this when I read the last book in this series, but oh my goodness, these covers are really terrible! Of course, that is a purely personal opinion, but still!

Another charming and enjoyable read from this author.

Rating 4/5

The other books in this series in order are:

The Sunday Philosophy Club
Friends, Lovers, Chocolate
The Right Attitude to Rain


  1. I've read the first 2 in this series and enjoyed them (though Isabel annoys me at times, so self-righteous), so I only skimmed the review to see your general opinion. Must borrow #3 from the library to catch up!
    Have you read the Scotland St series? The first one is such good cosy comfort reading.

  2. I think that she is better in the 3rd and 4th books than she was in the first 2!

    The Scotland St series is one of the series that I haven't ever read of his!



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