The Sunday Philosophy Club (by Alexander McCall Smith)

I'd heard of Alexander McCall Smith as a writer more than once. Various friends had recommended his detective series set in Botswana, featuring the 'number 1 lady detective' Precious Ramotswe. But the only book I've read so far in that series, 'The Kalahari Typing School for Men' left me underwhelmed, wondering what people could see in his writing.

But it's not fair to judge an author on just one book. So when I saw 'The Sunday Philosophy Club' in the local thrift store, I decided to buy it. It's the first in a separate series about another detective, and set in Scotland.

The detective in this series is the middle-aged Isabel Dalhousie. She's a review editor, and also something of a philosopher - although the 'Sunday Philosophy Club' of the title is only mentioned in passing throughout the novel. She's also intrigued by people, and by motivations, and likes to follow up her instincts although they prove to be somewhat unreliable at times.

The story opens as Isabel witnesses a tragedy at the end of a concert. It disturbs her, naturally, and after giving an interview to a rather insensitive journalist, it preys on her mind more and more. She determines to find out as much as she can about the circumstances, in the hope of putting her mind to rest. But the more she discovers, the more confused she becomes.

She follows up various trails, some of them leading nowhere, and has a few tense moments that make her wonder if she might be the next victim of another tragedy.

I found the book a bit long-winded in places, decidedly prone to digression. All the same, I found it surprisingly enjoyable. There are some mildly amusing moments, and also a few pages that kept me rather strongly in suspense. I quickly warmed to Isabel and also to her no-nonsense housekeeper Grace. Despite the plethora of minor characters, I didn't have too much trouble remembering who was who.

While I'm still not certain if I want to read any more about Precious Ramotswe, I'm intrigued by Isabel Dalhousie and her philosophy club. I may look for more books in this series in future.

Review copyright Sue's Book Reviews, 26th August 2010

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