The Charming Quirks of Others by Alexander McCall-Smith: A review

I generally enjoy the writing of Alexander McCall-Smith. I've been a follower of two of his mystery series, the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series featuring Precious Ramotswe and the Sunday Philosophers' Club series featuring Isabel Dalhousie.

I vacillate in my opinion of the Isabel Dalhousie character. In some of the books in the series, I find her rather sweet and charming, but in others she is altogether insufferable and irritating. This entry in the series has to be placed in the latter category.

The story here is that a school in Isabel's Edinburgh is looking for a new headmaster and has narrowed its list of candidates down to three, but an anonymous letter has been received indicating something scandalous in the background of one of three. Unfortunately, the letter doesn't say which one. Isabel is asked to investigate "discreetly" and let the school's board know who the scandal-ridden candidate is.

This just seems unbelievable on the face of it. Why would the school asked a philosopher, which is what Isabel supposedly is, to investigate? Why not ask a professional investigator? Surely there are some in Scotland. But Isabel accepts the assignment with few questions and little hesitation and the rest of the book finds her bumbling her way through an "investigation."

The thing is, Isabel doesn't really investigate. She takes one offhand stray "clue" and jumps to immediate conclusions about a person. This seems highly unprofessional and incompetent for either a philosopher or a detective.

Not only that but it seems that Isabel is so obsessed with her relationship with her much younger lover, the father of her son, and so insecure in that relationship that she spends all of her time thinking about it. When does she ever find the time to edit her philosophy review or to investigate candidates for headmaster or for that matter to be a mother to her son? The answer seems to be that she really doesn't. I can't see that she spends much time doing anything except thinking about her wonderful Jamie and what a gentle, beautiful YOUNG man he is and how lucky she is that he loves her. But does he really love her, Isabel wonders, or is he having an affair with that fellow musician who is dying and for whom he feels sorry and, therefore, to whom he must make love? After all, she is dying and she is attracted to Jamie and he is so gentle and kind that he just can't reject her...

This is all just a bit of a mishmash really. The story wanders all over the place with very little to hold it all together. By the end, I was ready to reach through the pages, grab Isabel by the shoulders, give her a good shake, and say, "For heavens' sake, woman, quit philosophizing and just get on with it!"


  1. Love the No 1 Detective books but have been warned not to venture to his other works. So for now I will heed my advisors!

  2. The only other series of his that I've read is this one, the Isabel Dalhousie series, and it's strictly hit or miss, Anonymous. Sometimes it's good and sometimes, like this one, it is just...not. But never is it as good as No. 1 LDA. Maybe he should have just stuck with that one and written more of them.


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