I’m a massive fan of McCall Smith, and whilst this book still managed to hit the spot I must admit that I was slightly disappointed by it. As a follow-up to Corduroy Mansions it has the same slightly ‘bitty’ feel, but as that is down to the needs of the original format I wasn’t so bothered by that.

However, I was more bothered by the ridiculous storyline involving Freddie de la Hay and MI6 (and I won’t even mention the Yeti). Whilst I realise that McCall Smith isn’t exactly setting out to write a realist novel I did feel that he had overstepped the mark this time. His characters are often in ridiculous situations but usually there is at least a thread of reality, ‘that could me, or him, or my neighbour’, that I felt was missing from this storyline.

Don’t get me wrong. There was much about this book that charmed me as ever: the success of Dee’s marketing; the outwitting of the would-be fleecers of Terence; and, especially, Barbara’s love. But I did feel that slightly old-fashioned whimsy that I normally celebrate and enjoy had overshot the mark a little here.

The success, for me, of his books is exactly that they celebrate the extraordinary in the ordinary, as the book flap describes it, the ‘minor miracles’ that can occur in everyday life if people exercise kindness. Which is why I wasn’t too impressed by the emergence of Russian agents, and MI6 operatives lurking in St James park. I for one hope that this is a  minor aberration and that he’ll be back on track next time.

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