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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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This came as a blessed relief. The past couple of books I’ve been reading I’ve struggled with a little.  And my lunchtime book, The House of Hunger (part of my African Writer challenge) is rather brutal, plus work is challenging at the moment and I’m trying to revise. So, all-in-all I fancied a pleasant read. So, at lunchtime on Friday I wandered up to the Trafalgar Square Waterstones to hunt out some Alexander McCall Smith gems.

I did buy quite a few, and I won’t bore you with the details of my thoughts on each of them as I read them, as I have fairly similar reactions to them all anyway – and I buy them to get that particular reaction. But I’ll blog about this one, and I’ll probably do a general blog on the Sunday Philosophy Club ones when I’ve meandered through them.

Now there’s nothing difficult or conceptually hard about McCall Smith’s books, but they are erudite and considered. They contemplate life on a slightly different plain to that which most of us occupy for most of the time. And they make me consider things too: how we should behave towards others; the importance of courtesy; the value of friendship.

And this one is no different. I understand that this was initially an serialisation in the Telegraph and then an on-line podcast, and I could see how that would work well. Given that initial format it’s understandable that the chapters are much shorter than is normal in his books. This does mean that the story seems to jump around a little, and that you don’t really have time to ponder much before he moves onto another fascinating point, but it still flows enough for this not to really be an issue.

Getting onto the actual content – well it’s classic. In Corduroy Mansions in Pimlico William, Master of Wine (failed) acquires an ex-sniffer dog, Freddie de la Hay, as a ruse to dislodge his useless son from his flat, whilst also trying to, kindly, ward off the attentions of his  friend Marcia. Meanwhile, downstairs Caroline tries to escape that picture of her in Rural Living while contemplating her friendship with James, and one of her flatmates, Jenny, earns her living by working for Oedipus Snark, a vile MP.

Maybe not quite as good as the Scotland Street series, but it still delivers the same feel-good reaction and reflective mood. And so much better than every other printed piece of matter I’m reading presently.