Isabel Dalhousie loves nothing more than discovering why the people in her life, and often those who only cross her path, do what they do. As the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics she examines human foibles with the same intensity of a pathologist peering through a microscope, in search of the motivations that affect or infect their relationships and behaviors.
She freely admits that some would call her nosey, but she asserts that she's only curious. It is harder for her to admit that she often jumps to conclusions that turn out to be woefully and comically wrong. Undaunted, she soldiers on, unraveling small mysteries and knitting up solutions for the people of Edinburgh.
Isabel's niece, Cat, is off to Italy on holiday and leaves her deli in Isabel's hands. Ian, a retired psychologist who knows Isabel by reputation, becomes a regular for coffee and scones. He confides that he recently has been the recipient of a heart transplant and is feeling strange emotions, memories of events he never experienced, and seeing the face of a man he's never met. He wonders at the possibility that somehow genetic memory from the donor's heart is influencing him, leaving him frightened, depressed and apprehensive. This is right up Isabel's philosophical alley, and against his wishes, she decides to search out the donor, whom she suspects may have been murdered.
Meanwhile, Cat returns from Italy with yet another inappropriate older man in tow, complete with charm, a Bugatti and a crush on the wrong person. Cat has abandoned Jamie, a musician who pines after her in sorrowful Scots gloom. Jamie relies on Isabel to bolster his spirits with dinners, concerts and heartfelt conversation. If only she were fifteen years younger, Isabel opines, but alas, love triangles were meant for playing.
In Alexander McCall Smith's gentle manner, the mystery embarks on the cozy path to resolution. Isabel stumbles across information that uncovers the true identity of the heart donor, meanwhile mending some broken hearts and putting a family feud to rights.
In her way, Isabel Dalhousie is as wise, charmingly offbeat and original as Mma Ramotswe of the bestselling First Ladies' Detective Agency series. As Scottish as a single malt whiskey, FRIENDS, LOVERS, CHOCOLATE bespeaks misty Edinburgh streets and chilly moors. McCall Smith's love of Scotland is as poignant as is his love of Botswana in his African series.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 22, 2011