Review

The Lost Art of Gratitude: An Isabel Dalhousie Novel

by Alexander McCall Smith

THE LOST ART OF GRATITUDE continues the adventures of Isabel
Dalhousie, a wealthy, middle-aged divorcee who is also a Doctor of
Philosophy. For the uninitiated, Isabel enjoys the leisure to
sit in contemplation, observing passersby in a window seat of a
favorite High Street coffee shop, meditating on their comings and
goings. But now that she has two-year-old son Charlie to look
after, her life has changed dramatically.

The joys and demands of motherhood consume much of her time,
and as the sole owner and publisher of the Review of
Applied Ethics,
the magazine of philosophical essays, she
finds her days and evenings fuller than ever. When she faced being
forced out of the editorial position by two of its quarrelsome
directors, Professors Dove and Lettuce, she simply bought the
magazine outright. Maintaining full editorial control is far
more satisfactory, but her new lifestyle leaves less time for
her to worry about what other people are doing and why they are
doing it.

In addition to being a powerful magazine publisher, Isabel is a
woman with the well-earned reputation of being a bit
“nosy” among her peers (if you hadn’t figured
that out already). But Isabel would prefer to describe herself as
inquisitive or curious or observant but never
nosy…she just likes to be of help. And unfortunately for
Isabel, her method for solving problems (either through discretion
or butting in where she’s not welcome) occasionally catches
up with her, which is what sets off the plot in McCall
Smith’s sixth Dalhousie novel.

One day, when Isabel and Charlie are enjoying an outing, she
runs into Minty Auchterlonie, a remote acquaintance with whom she
has tangled in the past. She tries to avoid Minty and her pushy
little boy who is Charlie’s age. But Minty, a powerful,
wealthy investment banker who moves in the same social circles as
Isabel, seems determined to reestablish their relationship and
invites Isabel and Charlie to her son’s birthday party.
There, Isabel discovers Minty’s real reason for the impromptu
invitation: she is being blackmailed over a dark, personal secret,
and because she has heard of Isabel’s unique success at
discreetly handling such ticklish situations, she seeks her help.
When Isabel finds herself manipulated into meeting with a
prominent local attorney who is the
purported blackmailer, she not only feels used but also
suspects that Minty has misled her and everything may not be as it
appears.

And to make matters worse, Professors Dove and Lettuce turn up
at her home office with evidence that Isabel has allowed a
plagiarized article to be published in her magazine. Isabel is
nothing if not meticulous in her vetting of all articles for
publication, so she is quite disturbed at the potential for scandal
and loss of reputation. Again, things are not quite as they
seem, and Isabel’s unique approach to resolving the dilemma
is amusing and infinitely satisfying --- not only for her but for
the reader as well --- once again proving that even dicey problems
can be taken care of without the weaponry of the courtroom.

Meanwhile, her personal life with Charlie’s handsome young
father, Jamie, a professional musician with whom she is deeply in
love, intensifies. There remains that niggling problem between
Isabel and her niece Kat, from whom she more or less stole
Jamie. Many fences remain in need of mending in her personal
relationships as we are reminded that Isabel’s complicated
ethical dilemmas often outstrip those of her subscribers.

Alexander McCall Smith is an absolute master of the novel of
gentle intrigue. His wise resolutions of the often small yet
persistent problems that each of us face in our lives make us yearn
for such sagacity on a larger, global scale. His hugely successful
series, beginning with THE NO. 1 LADIES’ DETECTIVE AGENCY,
has topped the bestseller lists from its first publication in
the United States and abroad, and has recently been adapted into an
HBO program of the same name. A master of tackling sticky
situations --- which comes from a career of teaching medical law
and bioethics in Africa and Scotland --- McCall Smith crafts a
wonderfully intriguing novel, one that leaves us waiting for the
next in the series. 

Reviewed by Roz Shea on January 6, 2011

The Lost Art of Gratitude: An Isabel Dalhousie Novel
by Alexander McCall Smith

  • Publication Date: September 21, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery
  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 0307387089
  • ISBN-13: 9780307387080