44 SCOTLAND STREET first appeared in serialization ala Charles
Dickens in 110 daily installments in The Scotsman newspaper.
Not a book in the ordinary sense of the word, it also is not a
mystery, which is what we have become accustomed to expect from
Alexander McCall Smith, creator of Mma Ramotswe in THE NO. 1
LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY series. There is a wee puzzler involving a
painting in the art gallery where our heroine, Pat, works. Is it or
is it not an undiscovered painting by eighteenth century painter
Samuel Peploe? And if it is, how should one go about retrieving it
from a charity boutique where it mistakenly found its way through
somewhat complicated means? This minor plot leads us to the cast of
characters with whom Pat lives, works and socializes as she flies
from the family nest to move into the titled address.
On the landing at 44 Scotland Street lives the widowed and widely
traveled Domenica, who befriends Pat and fills her in on the rest
of the residents: the stunningly handsome but callow Bruce, Pat's
flat mate, who is convinced he is the world's most charming and
desirable male, and the strange family largely run by the
precocious five-year-old Bertie, whose mother is determined to turn
him into a child prodigy.
With three successful mystery series under his belt, McCall Smith
seems to draw from a bottomless well of quirky, wise and
philosophical characters to delight his fans. He has charmed us
with THE NO. 1 LADIES' DETECTIVE AGENCY series and its protagonist,
Precious Ramotswe; confounded us with his redoubtable Professor Dr.
Von Igelfeld in the PORTUGUESE IRREGULAR VERBS mysteries; and
introduced us to the Scottish-American philosopher Isabel Dalhousie
in THE SUNDAY PHILOSOPHY CLUB.
McCall Smith's love of place underlies his tales of mystery and
moral dilemmas in each of his stories. A deep and abiding love of
Africa and its culture bring to life not only the characters but
also the unique problems of an emerging third world country, served
in an appetizing dish of humor, wisdom and mystique. His adopted
yet nearly native country of Scotland is equally treated to
insights and purely Scottish ways in the other two series.
44 SCOTLAND STREET is a paean, with tongue in cheek to Edinburgh
society --- high, middle and low. McCall Smith clearly loves the
extraordinary city and its slightly stuffy denizens, but you don't
need a guidebook or a Scotts burr to enjoy his wry social comments
and endearing characters.
Reviewed by Roz Shea on December 22, 2010
44 Scotland Street