Alex McCall Smith is best known for his globally popular mystery series, “The Number One Ladies Detective Agency,” set in Africa. Another of his mystery series features Isabel Dahlhousie, a canny Scotswoman who keeps busy in Edinburgh as editor of a journal of ethics, attending concerts, plays, art gallery openings and enjoying younger friends.
A dour helper, Grace, lends her opinions to all that goes on in Isabel’s life. Amongst Isabel’s varied interests are a talent for solving mysteries, plus meetings of the Sunday Philosophy Club.
Her niece, Cat, who has trouble connecting with what Isabel considers the right boyfriend, plays a big part in this story. Isabel’s own romantic past includes an all-out love for a fellow student when they were both at Cambridge, an affair that ended with his blatant unfaithfulness and sudden departure, eventually for overseas. This book’s mystery starts from the first sentence: a young man falls to his death from the highest seats in Usher Hall after a concert. Isabel witnesses the tragedy and is compelled to find out why it happened. Her curiosity leads her into the art world where the young man was employed. On a visit to a gallery where she hopes to buy a painting by a Scottish artist she meets a young man (Paul), who is knowledgeable, friendly and helpful, and his brash flint-edged fiance’ (Minty), whose interest in art seems to zero in on money to be made.
McCall always is an entertaining writer and in addition to his abundant humor, this book raises ethical and moral judgments that intrigue the admirable Isabel. Underhanded scheming and insider information issues develop to complicate things. A delightful summer read with enough characters and dilemmas to ponder to keep it interesting.