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    Review of THE SUNDAY PHILOSOPHY CLUB by Alexander McCall Smith


    Pantheon Books, September, 2004

    When she sees a young man plunge to his death after an orchastra concert, Isabel Dalhousie wonders whether she should get involved. It just seems so unlikely that the fall was an accident, and as editor of an Applied Ethics journal, doesn't Isabel have a philosophical duty to investigate when she knows something--and feels a connection? Of course, she can only investigate when she isn't busy trying to prevent her favorite niece from making a terrible mistake and marrying the wrong guy. Gradually, Isabel becomes more and more obsessed with these two challenges, finding more and more reasons why someone might have wanted to push poor Mark to his death.

    Author Alexander McCall Smith (see more reviews of novels by Smith) gained huge popularity with his No. 1 Ladies' Detective series. The Isabel Dalhousie series, of which this is the first, is set in Scotland rather than Africa, but includes investigation of tribal customs almost as strange as those of Africa. Unfortunately, I simply did not find either the characters or the mystery to be compelling.

    Isabel Dalhousie, unlike Mme Ramotswe, does not have to work and has her entire day free to manage other people's business and feel smug and superior to mere working people. Her efforts into 'applied ethics' might be important but certainly seem trivial from the small amount of information Smith chooses to share. Her favorite niece is somewhat less annoying than Isabel but serves mainly as a foil to Isabel's intelligence and perceptiveness.

    Sleuths, whether amateur, police, or private, do have a tendency to make false accusations. Still, I would have thought that a practitioner of 'applied ethics' would have just a bit more of a sense of guilt over implying that innocent people committed murder. It didn't help that Isabel's involvement was largely unmotivated, lacking either a ticking clock or any sense of personal disaster that might occur if the true criminal were not tracked down.

    From a mystery perspective, THE SUNDAY PHILOSOPHY CLUB has a huge hole in it--Isabel would never have gotten anywhere in her case without receiving one important clue--a clue that was simply unmotivated and made no sense from the mystery perspective.

    I'm a fan of Smith's fairy-tale like No. 1 Ladies Detective series, but Isabel Dalhousie is about as much fun as reading a journal of applied ethics.

    One Star

    Reviewed 1/25/05

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