November 28, 2011

The Careful Use of Compliments

by Alexander McCall Smith

Anchor Books,2007

240 pages, $14 (soft cover)

How many middle-aged female (fictional) sleuths are there? I can name only three. The first is my own, grown-up Nancy Drew, Penny Warnock. The second and third are Number 1 Ladies Detective Agency’s Mma Ramotswe and the same author’s (Alexander McCall Smith) philosopher/ethics review editor Isabel Dalhousie. I picked this book off the library shelf thinking it was one of the series about the “traditionally built” Botswana lady detective. Same clever title, simple illustration and even mention of those bestsellers. But once I started to read, I was not disappointed.

As with traditional Dashiel Hammet or Raymond Chandler classics, we are not clear what the mystery is even three-quarters of the way through. But, in this case it’s whether Isabel will patch up a quarrel with her niece, whether she will marry her baby Charlie’s father, and, oh yes, something about the possible forgery of a painting. What adds to the pleasure is her exploration of the ramifications of each. We are given a license to “philosophize” a bit ourselves and see the world in light of these microcosms.

I didn’t feel driven to read to an exciting climax, as I might have in a traditional crime drama with classic evil villains, but more like I was enjoying a thought-provoking discussion among good friends. And, best news, there is more of this waiting for me on the library book shelf. Next time I’ll examine the evidence (cover) more carefully when I pick it up.

To order this directly from Amazon for $11.20, click: The Careful Use of Compliments: An Isabel Dalhousie Novel (4) (Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries)


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