After devouring everything written by Alexander McCall Smith in four of his series of novels, I had nearly reached the conclusion that he is not only indefatigable but also virtually flawless in his ability to produce perfect gems every time. I have a few issues, however, with this, the 10th volume of the 44 Scotland Street series.
So skillful is the author’s depiction of Edinburgh that, as an American reader, I’ve always had the illusion I’d feel at home there. Charming details about Scottish culture, weather, and history have been intriguing or instructive but never obtrusive. This is the first book in which I’ve felt distracted too many allusions to obscure facts that were unrelated to the plot. Similarly, I enjoy the way his characters grow and change, but suddenly, it seems, the lives of the continuing characters seem to be exploding with change—expanding families, new homes, changing attitudes. Life may sometimes be like that, but I depend on my literary worlds—at least the ones created by Alexander McCall Smith—to be less jarring than the real world and to teach their lessons gently. Finally, as in life, the world of 44 Scotland Street is full of really interesting, colorful characters—many of whom fans like me care about a great deal. But suddenly there seem to be all kinds of intruders—characters who, like some in real life, monopolize our attention without really adding anything of value or enjoyment. For example, I can’t really work up any enthusiasm for the Scottish nudists or the doubtful Duke of Johannesburg.
For the first time in reading this series, I was tempted to skip a few paragraphs or pages. There were parts that just didn’t meet my expectations or capture my interest. Still, though, this <i>is</i> Alexander McCall Smith, and there were many passages I cherished.