Review

The Careful Use of Compliments: An Isabel Dalhousie Novel

by Alexander McCall Smith

Isabel Dalhousie's contemplative life as Edinburgh's resident philosopher has reached a major crossroads in this, the fifth novel in McCall Smith's enchanting series. With the revelation that she was pregnant with her young lover Jamie's child, at the end of the fourth installment, THE RIGHT ATTITUDE TO RAIN, her quiet, respectable and nearly Victorian lifestyle has dissolved.

It is, after all, the 21st century, so her new unwed motherhood has not made her an outcast as it might have done in earlier times. In fact, little Charlie's presence has caused barely a ripple among her colleagues in the arts and literary world of Edinburgh. Grace, her faithful housekeeper, has assumed the additional role of nanny with joy, if not outright zeal, which sometimes proves disconcerting to Isabel as she continues her work editing The Review of Applied Ethics.

When she receives the abrupt and disturbing news that she is to be unceremoniously ousted in her position at the esteemed magazine, she is almost as stunned as when she discovered her impending parenthood. The personal ambitions of an Aberdeen professor, a member of the magazine's board of directors, sees the editorship as a stepping stone to his ascension from an obscure college to the higher ranks of Scotland's academia. He thus embarks on a campaign to replace Isabel and take over the magazine.

Isabel is an enormously wealthy woman in her own right, so the loss of her job is not hazardous to her financial well-being --- but the loss to her ego is another thing altogether. The upstart professor finds a battle on his hands as Isabel struggles with her own ethical standards to retain her position --- especially when Cat, Isabel's estranged niece who is the only one in her circle of family and friends who is affronted by her aunt's pregnancy, seems quite taken by the professor.

Meanwhile, a mystery evolves as Isabel begins to suspect that a painting she is interested in buying by a well-known artist may be a forgery. She wrestles with the moral dilemma that arises from questioning the authenticity of the painting, discovering the truth behind the subterfuge and divulging the truth, creating another fascinating conundrum for Isabel and now Jamie, who is a major part of her life as befits the father of her son.

With time on her hands as the responsibilities at the magazine shifts to someone else, Isabel is free to travel to one of the Hebrides Islands in search of the artist in question. The trip leads to several revelations that most certainly will result in McCall Smith entertaining us with another installment in the life of this increasingly interesting woman.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on December 26, 2010

The Careful Use of Compliments: An Isabel Dalhousie Novel
by Alexander McCall Smith

  • Publication Date: August 26, 2008
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 247 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 1400077125
  • ISBN-13: 9781400077120