The delightful second installment in Alexander McCall Smith's already hugely popular new detective series, The Sunday Philosophy Club, starring the irrepressibly curious Isabel Dalhousie - editor of the Journal of Applied Ethics - and her no-nonsense housekeeper, Grace.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 be connected with the donor's demise Grace, of course, thinks it is none of Isabel's business. Add to the mix the lothario Cat brings home from the wedding in Italy, who, in accordance with all that Isabel knows about lotharios, shouldn't be trusted . . . but goodness, he is charming.
The second installment of McCall Smith's Sunday Philosophy Club series sports a charmingly meandering plot and winningly hyperverbal characters-no surprise to fans of Isabel Dalhousie's debut, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency books, or any of McCall Smith's 50-plus titles. Once again, Edinburgh's Dalhousie, intrepid editor of a philosophy journal, finds herself analyzing other people's problems when asked to fill in for her niece Cat, at Cat's gourmet food shop-cum-delicatessen. At the shop, Isabel meets Ian, who is haunted by visions of a man he comes to believe must be the murdered donor of his transplanted heart. As McCall Smith lovingly takes Isabel sleuthing across Edinburgh, the donor's stepfather (a man Ian has never seen) turns out to look much like the man of Ian's nightmares. Meanwhile, Cat's romantic rejects find their way, via the shop, into Isabel's social set, including former major beau Jamie, a classical musician who, though 15 years younger, becomes Isabel's confidant. A delicious mix of the unlikely and the tried-and-true, this latest cozy from an undisputed master will make readers feel just that. 9-city author tour. (Sept.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 19, 2005
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Excerpt from Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander McCall Smith
The man in the brown Harris tweed overcoat--double-breasted with three small leather-covered buttons on the cuffs--made his way slowly along the street that led down the spine of Edinburgh. He was aware of the seagulls which had drifted in from the shore and which were swooping down onto the cobblestones, picking up fragments dropped by somebody who had been careless with a fish. Their mews were the loudest sound in the street at that moment, as there was little traffic and the city was unusually quiet. It was October, it was mid-morning, and there were few people about. A boy on the other side of the road, scruffy and tousle-haired, was leading a dog along with a makeshift leash--a length of string. The dog, a small Scottish terrier, seemed unwilling to follow the boy and glanced for a moment at the man as if imploring him to intervene to stop the tugging and the pulling. There must be a saint for such dogs, thought the man; a saint for such dogs in their small prisons.
The man reached the St. Mary's Street crossroads. On the corner on his right was a pub, the World's End, a place of resort for fiddlers and singers; on his left, Jeffrey Street curved round and dipped under the great arch of the North Bridge. Through the gap in the buildings, he could see the flags on top of the Balmoral Hotel: the white-on-blue cross of the Saltire, the Scottish flag, the familiar diagonal stripes of the Union Jack. There was a stiff breeze from the north, from Fife, which made the flags stand out from their poles with pride, like the flags on the prow of a ship ploughing into the wind. And that, he thought, was what Scotland was like: a small vessel pointed out to sea, a small vessel buffeted by the wind.
He crossed the street and continued down the hill. He walked past a fishmonger, with its gilt fish sign suspended over the street, and the entrance to a close, one of those small stone passages that ran off the street underneath the tenements. And then he was where he wanted to be, outside the Canongate Kirk, the high-gabled church set just a few paces off the High Street. At the top of the gable, stark against the light blue of the sky, the arms of the kirk, a stag's antlers, gilded, against the background of a similarly golden cross.
He entered the gate and looked up. One might be in Holland, he thought, with that gable; but there were too many reminders of Scotland--the wind, the sky, the grey stone. And there was what he had come to see, the stone which he visited every year on this day, this day when the poet had died at the age of twenty-four. He walked across the grass towards the stone, its shape reflecting the gable of the kirk, its lettering still clear after two hundred years. Robert Burns himself had paid for this stone to be erected, in homage to his brother in the muse, and had written the lines of its inscription: This simple stone directs Pale Scotia's way/To pour her sorrows o'er her poet's dust.
He stood quite still. There were others who could be visited here. Adam Smith, whose days had been filled with thoughts of markets and economics and who had coined an entire science, had his stone here, more impressive than this, more ornate; but this was the one that made one weep.
He reached into a pocket of his overcoat and took out a small black notebook of the sort that used to advertise itself as waterproof. Opening it, he read the lines that he had written out himself, copied from a collection of Robert Garioch's poems. He read aloud, but in a low voice, although there was nobody present save for him and the dead: