Death in Edinburgh

 The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith

Given the tenor of the times, my chief impulse these days is to escape into another century. Which may explain why I’m re-reading Jane Austen’s complete works for the fourth time.

But recently I emerged from the 18th century long enough to complete The Sunday Philosophy Club. And what a delightful detour it was.

Edinburgh resident Isabel Dalhousie possesses many of the virtues that Jane Austen extolled.  Isabel is intelligent, witty, kind, generous.  She is also reflective, as befits the editor of The Review of Applied Ethics.  And inquisitive.  So inquisitive that when, during a concert at Edinburgh’s famed Usher Hall, she sees a young man fall to his death from the upper balcony (also known as “the gods”), she feels compelled to investigate.  

According to the city coroner, it’s a clear case of suicide. But Isabel suspects foul play and eventually, at risk to her own life, proves her suspicion to be correct.

Alexander McCall Smith clearly loves Edinburgh and its eccentric inhabitants. In this book, he gives free rein to that affection as well as to his celebrated imagination.  In chapter after chapter, we’re introduced to an assortment of quirky characters ranging  from  the lovable—such as Isabel’s outspoken housekeeper  Grace and her headstrong niece Cat—to the despicable, including a group of amoral investment bankers.

Gradually, the mystery becomes as twisted as Edinburgh’s back streets. Yet all along the way, Isabel and McCall Smith find time for quietly provocative philosophical riffs on the human condition.

Like Barbara Pym—and like Jane Austen—this author has a genius for revealing universal truths through the minutae of ordinary lives (if there is such a thing as an ordinary life). What's more, he does it with charm, warmth and humanity. 

 It’s almost enough to keep me in this century for a while.

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