Thursday, August 09, 2007

The Sunday Philosophy Club

Alexander McCall Smith is best known for his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, of which I am a fan. He has another series featuring Isabel Dalhousie, a cultured and wealthy Scottish lady (and I use the term advisedly), which sounds far more like my usual preference than a genial African woman. So I began the first book in the Dalhousie series, The Sunday Philosophy Club, with great anticipation.

Alas, my hopes foundered. It started off well enough; Isabel sees a man fall past her, from the top level of the concert hall to his death on the lowest level. Stricken, she cannot leave it alone, and soon discovered that he had an excellent head for heights, a happy and forward-looking disposition, and a reason to fear for his safety. Isabel reluctantly decides she has a moral obligation to solve the mystery of his death.

With such a promising start, it wasn't until about halfway through the book that I realized I was getting bored to death. Isabel's penchant for philosophy results in an unfortunate tendency to ramble on about all manner of moral dilemmas or other philosophical ephemera. Sometimes this actually propels her to action, but not enough action to justify following her constant existential posturing.

And another thing: there were far too many dead ends in the first half of the book. The police inspector, sporting a navy windbreaker and a forbidding expression, promised to be an excellent competitor or co-conspirator for the amateur Isabel, but his cameo was too brief. Likewise, the smarmy journalist threatened to create a world of trouble for our hapless heroine, but--he didn't. Instead, we become acquainted with Isabel's niece Cat, Cat's boyfriend Toby, Cat's ex Jamie, and Grace the maid. And Hen and Neil, who were the deceased's roommates. None of them are particularly interesting, and nothing much happened before I finally gave up and read the end. Which was quite a let-down, in keeping with the first half of the book.

So I give McCall Smith points for consistency, but that's it. I cannot recommend The Sunday Philosophy Club. Just writing about it makes me sleepy.


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