Isabel Dalhousie: The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall Smith

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Isabel Dalhousie: The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall Smith

Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: It pains me to mark down an AMS book as I do so love his writing, but as much as I enjoyed this, it sadly wasn't one of his best.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: August 2011
Publisher: Abacus
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0349123127

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I do wonder, sometimes, how it is possible that Mr Alexander McCall Smith can possibly manage to write so many novels? Wouldn't it be fascinating to meet him, and see if the stories just ooze out of him non-stop, and if he walks around with pen and paper at all times jotting things down as they occur to him... In this book he's bringing us back, once again, to Isabel Dalhousie's world. If you don't know who Isabel is then you should really forget all about this book for the moment and go right back to the beginning to The Sunday Philosophy Club so you can get all the characters in order and know what's going on. If you're already up to date, however, and have read up to The Lost Art of Gratitude then you're good to go!

Here we find Isabel once again pressed into investigating a small matter for someone, a poison pet letter that casts a shadow over one of the candidates for the post of principal at a local school but doesn't actually name which candidate it is. Isabel feels unable to say no to the request for help, as always, and in her investigations ends up suspecting one of the candidates of having murdered someone! Meanwhile in the usual band of characters we also see that Cat, Isabel's niece, has a new boyfriend. Jamie, Isabel's partner, is going through a rather difficult time with one of his band members, and Charlie, her son, is growing up as happy and content as ever.

I still love the charm of McCall Smith's writing, and following Isabel's train of thought is as entertaining as ever. The parts where mostly nothing happens and she just thinks things through are often my favourite parts, which is a good thing in this particular episode since there isn't a great deal of action. Charlie continues to be the world's best behaved baby, but I didn't begrudge Isabel this quite so much as I have in previous novels, perhaps because my own non-sleeping daughter now sleeps much better! I didn't see what was coming with the poison pen letter, but the investigation did feel a little strung out this time. I liked, though, the idea of large cities, in this case Edinburgh, being like a village. Indeed, it does seem as if Isabel knows everyone worth knowing in Edinburgh and is connected, in one way or another, with almost everyone she meets! This comes in useful for her when she is 'helping' people, or being a busybody as some might have it!

This wasn't, I'm afraid, one of my favourite Isabel books though. I felt frustrated with Isabel and her continuing issues with her relationship with Jamie. I began to feel slightly tormented by the author, and that we're just being teased with her happy relationship with Jamie and that is could be whipped away at any moment, or that perhaps he is wishing he'd never put Isabel and Jamie together as at times they seemed so unsuitable for each other I feared there was a very unhappy ending on the horizon! Isabel didn't seem her usual self really. I suppose it is more realistic to have Isabel continually worrying about the fact that Jamie is so much younger than her; it's unlikely that a woman would just suddenly forget the large age difference entirely, but for the first time I found it grating that their relationship seems perfect one moment and then on the verge of ending the next, and that Isabel simply cannot just relax and be happy.

Isabel does face an interesting situation with Jamie in this book, although she behaves rather jumpily, leaping from one conclusion to the next, her mind racing ahead to what might have happened, not just with Jamie but also in her investigations for the poison pen letter. I know she's tended towards this slightly in the past, but it seemed more pronounced in this book, and much more frustrating to read. There were several times when, had she been a real friend and not just a little lady running around in my imagination, I would have quite happily given her a good shake and told her to stop being so ridiculous!

Still, I read it from start to finish with very few breaks because I was caught up in the comfort of reading about such familiar characters. I find myself hoping that perhaps in the next meeting with Isabel, if there is another Isabel book to come, then she will finally marry Jamie and perhaps feel a little more secure with him because of that. It pains me to mark an Alexander McCall Smith down as a 'maybe' to buy, but really you should only get this is you're a fan, like me, as it sadly wasn't one of his best.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: If the sight of seven books to read in a series is too daunting you might wish to begin with his more recent series about Corduroy Mansions or perhaps try the standalone book La's Orchestra Saves the World.

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Buy Isabel Dalhousie: The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall Smith at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Isabel Dalhousie: The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall Smith at


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