Alexander McCall Smith's many fans will be pleased with this latest installment in the bestselling 44 Scotland Street series.
Back are all our favorite denizens of a Georgian townhouse in Edinburgh. Bertie the immensely talented six year old is now enrolled in kindergarten, and much to his dismay, has been clad in pink overalls for his first day of class. Bruce has lost his job as a surveyor, and between admiring glances in the mirror, is contemplating becoming a wine merchant. Pat is embarking on a new life at Edinburgh University and perhaps on a new relationship, courtesy of Domenica, her witty and worldly-wise neighbor. McCall Smith has much in store for them as the brief spell of glorious summer sunshine gives way to fall a season cursed with more traditionally Scottish weather.
Full of McCall Smith's gentle humor and sympathy for his characters, Espresso Tales is also an affectionate portrait of a city and its people who, in the author's own words, "make it one of the most vibrant and interesting places in the world."
McCall Smith is such a prolific author that he needs at least three readers to keep up with him. The series that transpire in Scotland have two performers. Davina Porter narrates the Sunday Philosophy Club series while Mackenzie performs the series about 44 Scotland Street. Porter is the better performer as she catches the various cadences of Edinburgh's middle class. Mackenzie's characters sound pretty much alike in terms of their accents, with the exception of Angus's hearty brogue. Its also annoying that some of the women are given the same tiny voices used for a six-year-old genius. Best is Mackenzie's over-the-top enactment of Lard, a Glaswegian gangster and his cohorts with their barely comprehensible street slang and thick accents. The major problem with this production is the lugubrious pace of the narration. Although Espresso Tales is the second book in a series, the audio helpfully provides two summaries of characters and events at the beginning. Despite the reader's lack of pep, the author's sly, gentle humor shines through and makes this audio charming and engaging. Simultaneous release with the Anchor paperback (Reviews, May 22). (July) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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July 09, 2006
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Excerpt from Espresso Tales by Alexander McCall Smith
1. Semiotics, Pubs, Decisions
It was summer. The forward movement of the year, so tentative in the early months of spring, now seemed quite relentless. The longest day, which always seemed to arrive indecently early, had passed in a bluster of wind and light rain, but had been followed by a glorious burst of warmth that penetrated the very stones of Edinburgh.
Out on the pavements, small clusters of tables and chairs appeared here and there, populated by knots of people who could hardly believe that they were sitting outside, in Scotland, in late summer. All of them knew that this simply could not last. September was not far off, and after that, as was well-known to all but the most confused, was October - and darkness. And Scottish weather, true to its cultural traditions, made one thing abundantly clear: you paid for what you enjoyed, and you usually paid quite promptly. This was a principle which was inevitably observed by nature in Scotland. That vista of mountains and sea lochs was all very well, but what was that coming up behind you? A cloud of midges.
Pat Macgregor walked past just such cafe-hedonists on her way back to Scotland Street. She had crossed the town on foot earlier that day to have lunch with her father - her mother was still away, this time visiting another troublesome sister in Forfar - and her father had invited her for Saturday lunch in the Canny Man's on Morningside Road. This was a curious place, an Edinburgh institution, with its cluttered shelves of non-sequitur objects and its numerous pictures. And, like the trophies on the walls, the denizens of the place had more than passing historical or aesthetic interest about them. Here one might on a Saturday afternoon meet a well-known raconteur enjoying a glass of beer with an old friend, or, very occasionally, one might spot Ramsey Dunbarton, from the Braids, who many years ago had played the Duke of Plaza-Toro in The Gondoliers at the Church Hill Theatre (with such conspicuous success).
There was no such interest that day. A mousy-looking man in a blue suit sat silently in a corner with a woman companion; the silence that reigned between them being broken only by the occasional sigh by one or other of them. He looked steadfastly down at the menu of open sandwiches, as if defeated by the choice and by life; her gaze moved about - out of the window, at the small slice of sky between the Morningside Road tenements, at the barman polishing glasses, at the tiles on the floor.
As she waited for her father to arrive, Pat found herself wondering at the road which had brought them to this arid point - a lifetime of small talk, perhaps, that had simply run out of steam; or perhaps this is what came of being married. Surely not, she thought; her own parents were still able to look at one another and find at least something to say, although often there was a formality in their conversation that made her uncomfortable - as if they were talking a language, like court Japanese, that imposed heavily on them to be correct.
In Pat's company, her father seemed more comfortable. Leaning back in the bench seat at the Canny Man's while he perused the menu, his conversation took its usual course, moving, by easy association, from topic to topic.
"This is, of course, the Canny Man's," he observed. "You'll notice that the sign outside says something quite different. The Volunteer Arms. But everybody - or everybody in the know, that is - calls it the Canny Man's. And that pub down on the way to Slateford is called the Gravediggers, although the sign outside says Athletic Arms. These are verbal tests, you see. Designed to distinguish."