Alexander McCall Smith is prolific. No other word to describe him. He seems to write an endless stream of books that seem to hit the bookshops with alarming regularity, turn your back and Oh my goodness me, there is another one. I will admit last year to feeling swamped and overwhelmed and began to consider whether it was obligatory that I bought and/or read each one. When I worked and threw a lot of money at books I did, but I am less profligate these days (well, slightly.....) and so something had to go.
The first books I read by this author were the No 1 Ladies Detective Series which I avoided for some considerable time as I just didn't fancy reading them. Don't know why, presumably the thought of a detective series set in Botswana did not appeal but in the end gave in, read the first one and then, as is my usual wont, rushed out and bought the other four which were then in print. Adored them, fell in love with Precious Ramotswe - who cannot love a woman of traditional build'? - and since then have bought and read each one as they came out. I usually pick these up in (Shhhhhhhhh don't tell anyone) Tesco, as they sell them in hardback cheaper than the paperback and when a new one is published, in it goes with the frozen peas and the sausages.
Next up I read the 44 Scotland Street series with the poor little boy Bertie with his ghastly overachieving mother who teaches him Italian and makes him play the bassoon, when all he wants to do is be a normal child. Other myriad characters abound and I enjoyed the first one, then less so the second but carried on because I had become reeled in by then. However, after Love Over Scotland I came to a grinding halt as I began to find them really tedious and I was skipping paragraphs and pages and so decided that was that.
Then the Corduroy Mansions series started in the Telegraph and a chapter a day was emailed to me. After a couple of weeks I began to find them as tiresome as Scotland Street but when it was published in book form decided to give it a go as perhaps just reading it in these short bursts was doing it a disservice. So I read it and decided, no it was not for me.
And so we come to my favourites of all his books. The Sunday Philosophy Club Series, the story of Isabel Dalhousie, a philosopher who lives in Edinburgh. She is the owner and editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, she is wealthy, lives in a lovely house, has a housekeeper called Grace and a niece called Cat who has a delicatessen in the city. And that is it. In each book Isabel solves a problem, one which affects herself or one she has been asked to deal with by a friend or acquaintance. There are seven books in the series, The Charming Quirks of Others, being the latest and these I do buy, without hesitation and keep on my shelves, all the others have been passed on to friends or given to the charity shop.
Difficult to explain why I love these books. As with the Ladies Detective Agency, nothing much seems to happen, but it is precisely because of this that I love the Dalhousie books so much. Over the eight books she has met somebody, fallen in love, had a baby and it has unfolded slowly and gently over a period of time, no huge peaks or troughs, just a progression interspersed with every day problems and mundane irritations. When I read about Isabel and her life I feel it is true and real and I get a huge satisfaction just sitting quietly and turning the pages and am always sorry when I come to the end. I hope he continues to write many more of these as I cannot see me ever tiring of them as I have some of the others.
Finally, I love the description of Edinburgh. I have never visited and every time I read one of the Sunday Philosophy Books I am determined to go and wander round the streets described in these and other AMS books myself. I am going ot try and see if I can make it in 2011 and will have to make a list of all the names of places and buildings mentioned so I can Do a Dalhousie. Everyone I know who has been to this city comes back and says just how beautiful it is and it is downright silly not to go. So look out Edinburgh, brace yourself - I Will be Arriving.
Don't worry, I will give you plenty of warning....word of a Sassenach.