Alexander McCall Smith has given us more than two-dozen gentle, amusing, often whimsical and always thoughtful novels that take place in far-flung parts of the world. He first became famous for his bestselling novellas starring Precious Ramotswe in The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency in Botswana. His books featuring Edinburgh philosopher Isabel Dalhousie have captured the imaginations of his readers and become bestsellers on their own.
Smith recently poked wry fun at himself in a National Public Radio appearance on “Prairie Home Companion” as an author in search of a muse. He was searching for language that would inject more action, guns, car chases --- some real excitement into his works. As he told Guy Noir, Garrison Keillor’s hard-boiled detective character, he appreciated the large following of “lady readers who enjoyed stories with tea and biscuits” but hopes never to have to insert the word “scone” into another novel. He wants to venture into the action-packed, hard-boiled world of readers who are the guys who drink beer and hunt bears, so he asked Guy for tips on writing action mysteries. Smith gets arrested for “writing while driving” and joyously finds himself “in the slammer” surrounded by Damon Runyonesque characters who keep him scribbling every cliché ever uttered in hard-boiled pulp fiction. He leaves jail a happy man, ready to tackle a new genre.
However, you won’t find a word of it in THE CHARMING QUIRKS OF OTHERS. What you will find is an Isabel Dalhousie rumination on the beiges and grays of human character, this time focusing on her being pressed into conducting an informal inquiry into the short list of candidates for headmaster of an exclusive boy’s school near Edinburgh. The current headmaster has accepted a post in Singapore, so the school is scurrying to find a suitable replacement. A member of the school’s board, a casual acquaintance of Isabel’s who has learned of her reputation for discretion, has come into possession of an anonymous note hinting of a scandalous event i