With the addition of a new baby brother for Charlie, Isabel struggles with the common sorts of post-partum challenges like slight depression and sibling rivalry. Her life is happy and fulfilling enough, but Isabel still suffers from her usual weakness of getting herself embroiled in other people’s lives. She views this as a compelling urge towards helpfulness, but when does involvement become meddling and when is it time to mind your own business?
When the daily demands of work, children, and keeping the household become overwhelming, Isabel decides to employ both an assistant to help her edit the philosophical journal as well as an au pair to help around the house. She imagines her burdens being magically lifted, but of course, the additional staff cause an additional set of problems. Isabel finds herself embroiled in a number of dangerous situations with some rather unsavoury characters. I was finding that Smith’s writing in the last few years was becoming a bit less compelling, so I was pleasantly surprised that there was quite a bit more adventure in both of these.
The philosophical musing that Smith likes to do is inherent in this series especially because Isabel Dalhousie is an editor for a philosophical journal. As is true for many philosophers, her mind tends to wander when she thinks about the ways of human life and grapples with everyday moral and ethical questions. So is this the end for this series? We’ll have to wait and see. He has started a new series which is coming out this month called The Detective Varg Series set in Sweden which is more “Sandinavian Blanc” rather than Scandinavian Noir–featuring very odd, but not very threatening crimes. Sandy Smith is such a prolific writer, I always joke that he writes them faster than I can read them! See his website for a complete listing of all of his series. It’s like a big bag of chips–once you start, you won’t be able to stop!
While catching up on this #10 of a favourite series, I made a discovery. Alexander McCall Smith wrote some in-betweeners about Isabel Dalhousie for Penguin Random House’s Vintage Shorts, an interesting collection by established authors and newcomers. Exclusively electronic in format, these short stories can be accessed free on ebook from your local library with Overdrive, or else purchased from Kindle or Kobo, although they could just as easily be left out of the series as well. A full listing of all of the books in the Isabel Dalhousie series, including the additional short stories can be found here. Isabel Dalhousie is a philosopher in her early forties and lives alone in an aging house in the south of Edinburgh. Thanks to a large inheritance left to her by her late mother, she is able to work for a nominal fee as the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics.
I love reading lighthearted series like this in a busy season because the characters and setting are already familiar. The reading is light but only because it deals with the quotidian. As an Emeritus Professor of Medical Law at the University of Edinburgh, McCall Smith is no slouch. There is a lot of philosophical thinking and reasoning mixed up in these novels. Alexander McCall Smith is the master of the everyday moral dilemma and he makes it so very amusing.
Here are the short stories:
The Perils of Morning Coffee (#8.5) Isabel once again gets into trouble by being friendly and helpful in her community. She is reminded not to jump to hasty conclusions about people and eventually gets to the truth of the situation. As one reviewer on Goodreads said, “A little puzzle and a few misconceptions mixed with a bit of philosophy and a touch of humour.”
At the Reunion Buffet (#10.5) School reunions can be fraught. The author gets at the curious nature of meeting up with people 20 years later, sometimes with those we didn’t get along with in the first place! Old grudges and alliances along with petty feelings, are sure to surface and wreak havoc on what should perhaps be a happy occasion.
Sweet, Thoughtful Valentine (#10.7) This was my favourite of these three short stories. Isabel is confronted with an ethical conundrum around promise keeping. It involves an interesting painting that she discovers in an auction house, while searching for a gift for her husband. As ever, Isabel can’t reason out what the best course of action might be in the situation and wants to get involved in something against her better judgement.