|The Sunday Philosophy Club: An Isabel Dalhousie Mystery
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With The Sunday Philosophy Club, Alexander McCall Smith, the author of the best-selling and beloved No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels, begins a wonderful new series starring the irrepressibly curious Isabel Dalhousie.
Isabel is fond of problems, and sometimes she becomes interested in problems that are, quite frankly, none of her business. This may be the case when Isabel sees a young man plunge to his death from the upper circle of a concert hall in Edinburgh. Despite the advice of her housekeeper, Grace, who has been raised in the values of traditional Edinburgh, and her niece, Cat, who, if you ask Isabel, is dating the wrong man, Isabel is determined to find the truth–if indeed there is one–behind the man’s death. The resulting moral labyrinth might have stymied even Kant. And then there is the unsatisfactory turn of events in Cat’s love life that must be attended to.
Filled with thorny characters and a Scottish atmosphere as thick as a highland mist, The Sunday Philosophy Club is irresistible, and Isabel Dalhousie is the most delightful literary sleuth since Precious Ramotswe.
From the Hardcover edition.
- The Formula Moves Country
There is something about The Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency that is instantly pleasin and engaging - perhaps it the exotic location, or the simple-yet-wise characters. Isabel Dalhousie has glaringly obvious similarities to Precious Ramotswe - an independent woman, briefly and disastrously married, and involved in a "mystery". Unlike Ramotswe, who is hired to solve questions for clients, Dalhousie is simply morbidly nosy. She sees a young man fall to his death. Traumatic, yes, but a justification for going snooping into the shared flat the departed lived in?
The story has a conclusion, which not all of McCall Smith's do, but there is just something too smug and cold about Dalhousie to interest the reader. It's a shame that this is developping into a series, when McCall Smith could be concentrating on The Number One Ladies Detective Agency instead....more info
- Tedious, TMI about the mundane inner workings of the heroine's fossilized mind
Supposedly the star of this show is a well educated women in her 40's. Unfortunatly, her inner musings are mundane, repetative and seem more typical of someone in her 80's who has lived a dull, rule-dominated life. Further, she lacks common sense in human relations. She leaks her anxiety in damaging ways onto others and the author tries to convince readers that this reflects some comprehensible moral code about truth telling. The transcription of this dreary woman's inner musings is boring in the extreme, even for someone like me, who enjoys ethical discussions. It seems that the author took an intro course in ethical/moral reasoning and feels qualified to wax eloquent about tempests in teapots. What I don't understand is why a publisher wouldn't have the good sense or courage to tell this previoulsy successful author that she is out to lunch with this dreary tome. I'll probably never know who killed that young man because I can't bear to proceed further into the book, but here's my guess - Neil did it to get rid of a romatic rival. The insider trading tip was a lie to send our heroine down the wrong path. ...more info
- Torture to finish
I have been interested in Mr. Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency for quite a while, but had not yet picked one up, so was quite pleased when our book club selected Sunday Philosophy Club as our next novel. However, the book was more than a disappointment--it was absolutely painful to finish.
The book is filled with inane details of the protagonist's life, including tales of her housekeeper's best friend's husband, detailed descriptions of meals and visits with her niece, and all of her thoughts and efforts surrounding her efforts to get that niece safely married off to Mr. Right. What isn't filled with these events, is filled with Isabel's rather snobbish thoughts as she works the daily crossword puzzle, finding somewhat obscure references to be terribly simple clues, and with her comparative analyses of events in her life to the writings and teachings of various philosophers and musings as to how her Sunday Philosophy Club would react to her analysis.
While the murder occurs in the first few pages, the author takes half the book to even begin the plot related to that death. And even when the plot gets started it seems a terribly minor part of this book, which apparently isn't a murder mystery at all, but just a month or so in the life of Isabel. The plot itself, when it did finally unravel, was terribly disappointing and did not ease the pain of dredging my way through the last half of the book in the least.
While I am generally easygoing and forgiving of authors, and rarely rate books under at least 3 stars, this book was not enjoyable at all, and in fact I must admit I actually hated it....more info
- The mystery that got lost along the way
Unlike many of the other posters, I have never read one of Smith's "Ladies Detective" stories, so I won't be using those works as a point of comparison. I got to know his writing through the very funny "Portuguese Irregular Verb" series, and the first two volumes of his serial fiction "44 Scotland Street." Smith creates likeable characters who live mostly ordinary lives in a mostly moral universe, but he uses them to satirize Edinburgh society and make the reader think about morality and life in general.
This first installment in the Dalhousie series was a disappointment. It wasn't the characters who were the problem, or the Edinburgh ambience. It was the lack of focus on the central plot, and the very weak conclusion that let me down. Smith can't seem to decide if he's writing a whodunit, or a love story about the main character, her niece, and the men in their lives. Long stretches of the book leave the mystery behind, and when the truth behind the murder is finally revealed, there's not much for the reader to do but shrug.
The murdered man was pushed, we believe, from the balcony of a concert hall. Are we to believe that that man and his killer were the only people left in the balcony? And don't you think that the police's main line of inquiry would be to determine who held the tickets near the murdered man? Smith seems to ignore this obvious fact.
Smith is, for me, an enjoyable writer who can entertain in a "PG-rated" style. His little digs at culture (Stockhausen, for instance), his knoweldge of painting, love of Scotland, and inclusion of bits of his own life (he's a member of the Really Terrible Orchestra, which features in the plot), give his books a certain charm. But I hope the rest of the books in this series do a better job of sticking to a true mystery plot and providing a satisfactory conclusion....more info
- Precious, where are you when we need you!
I have wasted three evenings on this book, hoping that it would eventually show some of the sparkle and grace of the Botswana sextet. But no. It was a pure bomb, and I will not waste my time on another of his books until he gets back to Africa. I find it hard to believe that the NY Times said that readers of the Precious Series would love this one. It is the exact opposite, as reader comments have confirmed....more info
- slow book, annoying heroine
Isabel Dalhousie is a philosopher, and as such, drones endlessly on about issues that I couldn't care less about. I gave it 3 stars because I finished it, and because I became sort of interested halfway through in spite of myself, and I didn't hate it. I do generally enjoy books by this author, which is why I picked it up. I wouldn't recommend it to a friend....more info
- Captivating, comprehensive and cultural
Isabel Dalhousie is, well, almost a spinster. In modern Edinburgh that's an anomaly, but not as disreputable as it was once considered. However, one day a young man drops by. Regrettably, he drops by on his way another floor down from "the gods" - the highest seats in an orchestra hall. There's hardly time for an exchange of glances before he's lying dead among the other symphony patrons. A regrettable accident?
Isabel is also the lowest form of animal life in the eyes of some - she's an editor. Whatever failings editors possess, they have a keen eye for detail. And good memories. Isabel's talents lead her to wonder about the young man's death. Her inquisitive mind directs her into a surprising mystery involving high finance, the world of art - particularly as a commodity - and the relationships among Edinburgh's young people. She is dogged in her pursuit of truth - one senses something of McCall Smith's own career in that regard. All these factors are woven intricately in this fascinating story of the city that once led the "Scottish Enlightenment".
McCall Smith's talents as a story-teller shouldn't need disclosure here. His Botswana series on Precious Ramotswe and her associates have gained wide renown. However, if you are new to his work, be prepared for a story of intricacies of plot and character. Isabel would likely seem rather dull and sedate were you to encounter her at a concert or social gathering. That would be a mistake. McCall Smith demonstrates how superficial assessments provide little insight into people's real characters. Isabel is observant, particularly of people - unexpected in someone who does the crossword every morning with coffee. Her pursuit of the mystery of the young man's death is complicated by her niece, Cat. Cat is set as the real foil in this story. A "modern" girl, she goes through men with an almost studied indifference. It's difficult to know what attracts her to particular characters. Isabel, her own sad experience providing an example, provides stability to Cat's rather flighty life.
The author not only weaves a captivating tale, he provides a vivid glimpse of Edinburgh life in the telling. We are introduced to Scottish writers, poets and artists. My Edinburgh grandfather would likely rise in righteous wrath were he to perceive how ignorant his descendent is of that civilization. One is tempted to put down the book and rush to the library to probe these cultural icons further. McCall Smith doesn't let us off that easily, however. As he piles complexity on complexity following Isabel's quest, you know the research must be deferred until the last page is closed. The finale is in the best tradition of this author, making this book yet another jewel in his literary diadem.
Oh, yes. And the "Sunday Philosophy Club"? Isabel is a founding member. For further details, start at page one of this appealing story. [stephen a. haines - Ottawa, Canada]...more info
- Lazy writing, boring story...
If you're looking for a page-turner mystery, this is NOT the book. In this first installment of a series I got to the end of the book and still have no idea what the main character looks like, or much on her background. The author weaves all of these erroneous details into the book that have zilch to do with the actual story. I got to the end of the book and wondered why we were even introduced to the character Toby. BORING, BORING, BORING!...more info
- A gentle detective story
It is understandable but, I think, unhelpful that many readers should compare this book with the author's earlier series about the No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Some who are great fans of the latter have obviously not taken to this novel, which is in quite a different league. Edinburgh does not for us have the exotic appeal of Botswana; and Isabel Dalhousie, the `detective' in this book is more cerebral and her wisdom is less home-spun than that of Precious Ramotswe. What they do have in common is a feeling of social responsibility to see that justice is done, though Isabel, who is a moral philosopher, will muse over the basis of that feeling; and she does this in a manner which is not forbidding, but on the whole rather accessible. She is in any case given to much musing, to examine a variety of aspects of life in a rather intellectual manner. So, yes, she may strike one as a bit of a blue-stocking, but I found her reflections interesting and involving, and I was made to think about the questions she asked herself. Given that there is a dreadful death which she feels drawn in to investigate, there is not too much urgency and only a tense moment or two in a story which is allowed to meander gently along - this clearly has irritated some readers - as she reflects not only about how the death might be explained but also about more mundane experiences of every day life and about her own and her niece's experiences of being in love. The characters are, I think, well drawn, and the writing slips down easily.
I have to declare an interest: I have written a book, to which I have given the title `Philosophy and Living' because philosophy appeals to me most when it addresses the problems of how we ought to live. I therefore feel some kind of kinship with Isabel Dalhousie....more info
- It just won't translate
It seems to matter not how much I celebrated AM Smith's work or how often in re-reading any of his Botswana tales, I reveled in the homogeneity of his crafted prose and the perfected simplicity of his character's emotions, none of this translated into an appreciation for The Sunday Philosophy Club.
The characters are still clean, crisp and open to the reader's inspection, but the prose is much too languid.
Worse, though, the writer just couldn't seem to keep his mitts off the story and leave it to the reader to find his way through. I had to put the book down and walk away with each interruption. And so obsequious! I kept feeling him, peering over my shoulder, asking "Did you get that," or "Wasn't that clever of me?"
Now, mind, I do reciprocate Mr. Smith's concern for dwindling ethics, civility and taste; but that's better left to a book where I choose to read his thoughts on that subject, it's simply not germane to a yarn preoccupied with Isabel, busily poking her nose into other people's business.
Mr. Smith also seems to suffer from what I call the English Mystery Writer's syndrome. Ninety percent of the energy and craft go into the opening and build of the story; then, as the writer nears the end of his prescribed length, he slaps up a climax and conclusion with apparent disdain for the reader's investment in the story or the characters. I am certain he can do much better.
Harsh, yes. But it's the reaction of a loyal, avid reader of a very competent wordsmith who's gone off the rails for a bit. I can only imaging what Grace might have said, if she were asked.
I'll try one more, but mind the gap! ...more info
- Sunday Philosophy Club
I have recently begun listening to the audio recordings of Alexander McCall Smith's new `Sunday Philosophy Club' series. These novels involve a Scottish-American philosopher named Isabel Dalhousie. She is an independent, single woman in her early 40s. She edits The 'Review of Applied Ethics' and hosts club meetings at her home in Edinburgh. However, she spends the vast majority of her time using her training to solve mysteries. She is aided by Cat (her niece), Grace (her housekeeper), and Jamie (a young, male friend). A man to whom she was once married is often in her thoughts. Philosophical thought/discussion/debate about moral and ethical issues, as they relate to the activities of main and minor characters, are an integral part of the stories. The British-born narrator brought the story to life for me. I hope AMS continues this thought-provoking series. J.K.
- He would admit this is not his Best
McCall Smith is on a roll -- in Africa at least.
His detective agency in Africa is always 4- or 5-star. This original in Scotland is 3-stars, at best. But, it is better than 90% of the rest of the items at the stores.
I predict the following books will be better.
He still can buy an annuity off my purchases....more info
- The bassoonist and the philosopher
Isabel Dalhousie, editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, lives an affluent, contemplative life in Edinburgh. After a concert she sees a man fall to his death from the balcony of the concert hall and reasons that as the last person he saw before dying, she owes Mark Fraser something -- in this case, to discover whether he was pushed.
Convinced that he was murdered, Isabel makes inquiries among Fraser's colleagues in the financial world. There are a number of possible suspects and not all is what it seems. Isabel consults with her opinionated housekeeper, Grace, and partners in her investigation with her niece Cat's former boyfriend, the handsome bassoonist Jaime. After some surprises and a brush with personal danger, Isabel comes to the truth.
THE SUNDAY PHILOSOPHY CLUB is the first book of Alexander McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie series. Like the "traditionally built" Precious Ramotswe in McCall's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, Isabel takes a thoughtful approach to all her affairs; just as you'd expect from a philosopher who loves music, Scottish art, and the poetry of W.H. Auden. The mystery is not the main event in this series, but rather a showcase for Isabel's moral digressions. If you're into blazing action, this book won't have enough movement for you. But if you'd like to stroll the streets of Edinburgh and experience life through the considering eyes of a philosopher, give this series a try. Four stars for characters, plotting, charm and reflection. The missing star may be reclaimed when we know Isabel better.
I listened to the audio download from Amazon subsidiary Audible, Inc, which is the same production available on unabridged CD; read with philosopher-like steadiness by Davina Porter.
Linda Bulger, 2008
- Dull story; unBEARable heroine
This story was a very slow mover. In spite of the fact that the main character, Isabel, believes that a young man has been pushed over a balcony, nothing goes along at a pace that suggests that there might be a crime that wants solving.
In my opinion, Smith's writing was awful. The main fault is in Isabel, who is undoubtedly one of the most smug and pretentious heroines in modern literature. She's a truly annoying character, but what's bad is that she -- a philosopher, mind you -- has no self-awareness of what a twit she is. At one point, she reflects (with lots of mental back-patting) that she is a person who "believes in privacy," all while she's being a pushy and obnoxious nosey parker, intruding on people's grief and their personal lives in the name of "moral responsibility" to the man whose death she witnessed. I know. I didn't think it made any sense, either.
She simply could not have been more irritating. Plus, the ending fell flat -- it was a truly uninspired way to finish off the story.
The greatest recommendation I can give is that this book is not long at all. If you insist on reading it, it won't take long for you to finish it. You can return it to your public library before it is overdue. Because....you aren't going to BUY it, are you?...more info
- Mainstream Literature for Intellectuals
I don't know how he does it - but like Agatha Christie, A. M. Smith manages to churn out book after book of mainstream, crowd-pleasing prose that has just that touch of intelligence that makes even "intellectual types" want to read the next book. Make no mistake - this is "lite reading" - but it does not make you feel cheap or stupid for having read it. It isn't chick lit or brainless lit. It goes quickly, but there is artistry in it. The problem is he does it so well that he will be sick of writing more books in the same series long before we tire of reading them....more info
- Very disappointing!
I really enjoyed the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency and was looking forward to reading this new series. However, I did not find the main character, Isabel, to be likeable at all. She came across as judgmental, stuffy and pretentious. The story took way too long to get moving and, even then, it left me feeling empty. The ending was a tremendous letdown that frustrated me and had me wondering why I bothered to finish reading this book in the first place. I really hurried through this book so that I could read something more interesting and satisfying. The main character's internal dialog was excessive and long-winded. There was too much philosophizing and too many references (obscure to me) to music, books and art....more info
- Isabel Dalhousie is not Precious Ramotswe in a kilt
Isabel shares some traits with Mma Ramotswe. She is a single woman of independent means who values the cultural traditions that she sees being eroded all around her. "The Sunday Philosophy Club" is also like The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Today Show Book Club #8) in being an unusual type of mystery story. However, that's only the similarities. There are many differences.
Unlike any of the Botswana stories, "The Sunday Philosophy Club" begins like a traditional detective story, with a accidental death. Isabel Dalhousie sees a young man fall to his death from the top level ("the gods") at the opera house in Edinborough and can't get it out of her mind.
Isabel is in her early forties (not old these days) but has the affect of an older woman. Her best friend seems to be her full time housekeeper, and their favorite subject is how things are going to hell in handbasket.
But beneath Isabel's slightly dotty, eccentric exterior boil some strong human feelings that would be foreign to Miss Marple or Mma Ramotswe. It's Isabel's inner life that keep this from being a genteel set piece.
I also very much enjoyed seeing Edinburgh through the eyes of a lifelong resident. Based on what little I know about McCall Smith, this would seem to be his most personal series in the sense of his own habits and habitat.
Although I still prefer the No. Ladies Detective Agency series, I will look for the sequels to "The Sunday Philosophy Club". As a strange, non-spoilerish footnote, the club never actually meets during the course of the book. We never even find out who the members are, only that Isabel is the organizer and that they have trouble getting together. Perhaps all will be revealed in the next instalment....more info
This reviews this book on tape, in the unabridged version. I rarely listen to a story - I'm a reader. But I didn't "read" this story, so I have to review the version that was read to me.
The reader did an excellent job. I was able to keep track of the characters and was only occasionally confused about who was "speaking." Her Scottish brogue used for the characters was appropriate and pleasant to listen to. I did enjoy listening to this story, which I did during my commute to and from my job.
So, having established that the reading was good, I regret to say the plot was disappointing. I have enjoyed McCall Smith's rather slow-paced, thoughtful style in the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and he did use it somewhat effectively in this book. This certainly allowed me to get to know Isabel Dalhousie and Grace, Cat and James and their world.
The mystery begins with Isabel witnessing the death of a young man when she sees him falling from the balcony in a theatre. Grace, quite believably, becomes involved in finding out what happened - why did he fall?
The solving of this "mystery" for the reader, however, depended solely on misdirections in the story. And, while I find that a legitimate tool in a mystery when used artfully, in this case it was so impenetrable as to be both unfair to the reader and bit annoying. And then, after several surprises, most of which pointed in the wrong direction, the murderer AND the "motive" more or less appeared out of thin air and the book ended. I was truly disappointed.
I will qualify that criticism by accepting that it is possible that my "take" was affected more than I realize by listening to it, rather than reading it. I don't normally listen to mysteries, and perhaps when one reads a mystery one's mind reacts differently and one "thinks" differently about the information being provided.
At any rate - not a bad book on tape if you can just enjoy the slow unfolding of Isabel's world and her personality, but not a great one. I may try another of this series to see if I can learn to enjoy them. ...more info
- Slow moving
I was excited to read another series by Alexander McCall Smith but was disappointed. The character development is as well done as in his Number One Ladies Detective series. The plot is well laid out but the story is so slow moving! It also seems that some of the main characters' thought processes/patterns are repetitive. One would expect a better editing job given the way his other writings are. I won't be bothering with other Sunday Philosophy Club stories. ...more info
- Authentic and engaging ... for a while
As a former resident of Edinburgh (not too far from where Isabel lives), I can vouch for the skill with which Mr McCall brings the setting to life. And I found Isabel's philosophical musings thought-provoking and entertaining. As a mood and brain piece, therefore, it was evocative and engaging. But the mystery aspect of the tale was badly let down by the ending: flat, dreich and damp as an October afternoon in Edinburgh's Meadows. The run-up had promised so much more, and I'd hoped for a really challenging, mind-stretching revelation that would have made sense of some of the minor characters' actions. It doesn't happen....more info
- Impressed Despite Subpar Mystery
Like another reviewer, I also found the writing pretentious at times. Isabel wasn't much of a detective, failing to ask the most obvious question, the answer to which would have resolved the "mystery" in about two pages.
Still I liked the book and will begin the second in the series immediately.
I enjoyed the philosophical ramblings, the history, the vivid imagery and the emotional depth.
In some ways, I prefer it to the Botswana mysteries which are big on charm, but didn't really challenge me the way this book did.
- Dull and disappointing
I tried to like this book. I like all the "No 1 Ladies Detective Agency" books and hoped this would be equally enjoyable. Unfortunately, the protagonist is not nearly as charming. She is a highly educated woman and we must sit through every single nuance of a thought that she has before she arrives at a sensible conclusion. This is intended to be "philisophical" but it is tedious and overwrought. Furthermore the story and conclusion are disappointing. I expected better.
I give 1-star ratings to books I can't finish or are so dull I have to speed-read through them to get to the end (I hate to leave any book unread once I've started it). Unfortunately, this book falls into this category....more info
- A Good Read
I'm not disappointed with The Sunday Philosophy Club, but it is difficult not to compare it to The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency, a series I adore. Isabel is her own character, more internally focused than Precious. The story had more telling of events instead of experiencing the events first hand through Isabel. I like Isabel, but I'm hoping to like her more in the second installment which I also own....more info
- Read for the characters, not the mystery
This is the first book in the Isabel Dalhousie series, and while fans of the Ladies' No. 1 Detective Agency series will recognize the folksy and cozy narrative style, Isabel Dalhousie is a different kind of protagonist than Mma Ramotswe.
Like the Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency books, this story is not plot driven, but character driven. Like the Homer Kelly mysteries of Jane Langton, McCall Smith's mysteries tend to be on the lighter side (relatively gore-free), but filled with historical and cultural references. Isabel is a philosopher, and as the editor of the Journal of Applied Ethics, manages to view her interaction with the world as one large moral quandary. While she may consider Kant in her musings on every day situations, she is a very human character, subject to the same temptations and foibles as her non-philosopher friends.
A basic understanding of general philosophical trends is helpful, but by no means necessary, to enjoy this book. The philosophical references are not overbearing and do not have the same relevancy that they have in the work of Umberto Eco, for example. The characters are vivid and are solid stock for a series. The actual mystery is not central to the story, which is more focused on Isabel's relationship to the world around her. A very good read for a rainy day....more info
- Prose for the soul. Life is good.
Ok, I agree that the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency seems to have more flavor than the Isabel Dalhousie series - but isn't it because we find Africa much more exciting than Scotland? Because we find it exotic and warm and we are pleasantly surprised with the human universals we discover in Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi?
My opinion is that both series have the same writing quality, it is just that we don't know as much about Botswana and its people, as we know about Europe. And it makes it a more interesting read for us - as I am sure it would be the reverse for the African readers.
I liked the first novel of the Isabel Dalhousie series, it is a very enjoyable read. And the series gets better and better. I like the warmth and goodness and common sense that emmanate from McCall Smith's prose. It just feels good, cozy even. No big surprises, just a book to keep you good company, anytime, anywhere, and to remind us that life is good (and we can contibute to that, too). ...more info
- Dull & Disappointing
Dull and disappointing, especially after the very enjoyable "Ladies No. 1 Detectice Agency" series. It was hard to get into the story, and difficult to finish. ...more info
- Has potential, but doesn't follow through
The story started off thick with potentially fruitful plot lines, but it became tedious as Isabel Dalhousie continued rambling and rambling about the ethical ramifications of every single thing she did, saw, or thought about. In addition, McCall Smith seemed to think that readers would forget that the book is set in Edinburgh--he mentions it on seemingly every page.
Important plot points about dastardly folks are never resolved, and the end is terribly unsatisfying. When the book was over, I felt as if I'd been promised chocolates and given notes from Intro to Philosophy instead.
Three stars rather than one or two since it did hold my interest with subplots even as I loathed another batch of Dalhousie ethics....more info
- A nice diversion, but nothing to run out and get...
While I love Alexander McCall Smith's Ladies Detective Agency Series, I was less into this book. He follows a similar pattern and writing style in that he focuses on the characters, with the mystery being secondary. The problem is that I found the characters mildly interesting, and the solution to the mystery somewhat boring. Also, I felt the title had little to nothing to do with the book, other than a mention of the Sunday Philosophy Club. With Mma Ramotswe, I was fascinated from the first chapter of the first book. The mysteries are unique and are solved in funny and sweet ways and it's easy to see why Mma Ramotswe gets involved... she does, after all, run a detective agency.
With Isabel Dalhousie, it felt as though she was intruding on other people's lives and interfering. I did enjoy it because of the writing. I will probably read the rest of the series, but I sorry that I didn't fall in love with the characters and the story the way I did The Ladies No. 1 Detective Agency. ...more info
- A Little Different
Definitely doesn't have the charm of the #1 Ladies Detective Agency books--and I've read them all and the 44 Scotland Street books. But how can you not giggle at the idea of The Sunday Philosophy Club that never meets or the Really Terrible Orchestra concerts? Isabel Dalhousie is a bit of a bore whose mind often wanders to philosphical and (some silly) ethical questions raised in the papers she reads for the journal she edits. She witnesses the death of a young man who fell from the the highest balconies after a concert and can't get murder out of her mind. She bumps and bumbles through an unofficial investigation. In the meantime she looks for a way to detach her beloved neice from her current boyfriend.
This is not a "sit on the edge of your seat" type of mystery. If that's what you like, don't read it. If you've read any other Alexander McCall Smith books you know that that's not the kind of book he writes. If you like subtle but interesting intellectual arguments, silliness, and usually interesting characters--you should like his books. This is not his best one, but judging from the reviews of the later books in the series, they get better.
Somehow, I think that Isabel Dalhousie is the type of person that Mr. Smith encounters often in his everyday life....more info
- Slow pacing, but it grew on me...
As part of my vacation reading, I decided to take the recommendation of a friend and pick up the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith. I had the advantage of starting with the first of the three books, The Sunday Philosophy Club. Since I'm writing this after having read all three, I'm probably inclined to give it a bit higher rating than I might have if I were to have written the review immediately afterwards. The pacing is slow and not focused directly on the main plot line, but the characters grew on me. By the third installment, I was hooked...
Isabel Dalhousie is a single woman in her early 40s, and she lives in Edinburgh, Scotland. She witnesses someone falling to their death from the upper balcony of a theater, someone who she doesn't know and has never met. But she has a problem leaving things like that alone, and she starts to dig a bit to find out if the death was accidental, a suicide, or perhaps even a murder. Her position as editor of the Review of Applied Ethics journal is indicative of her nature, one that has her debating the merits and moral concerns of everything she says and does. As she gets deeper into the mystery, some unsettling events have her wondering if she might be a target for someone who could also be responsible for the mysterious death she witnessed.
The other core plotline here, and actually the one that seems to dominate the story, is the relationship between her, her niece Cat, Cat's boyfriend (who Isabel does NOT like), and Jamie (Cat's ex-boyfriend who can't forget her and who Cat wants nothing to do with). Isabel sees Jamie as perfect for Cat, and also has a great friendship/confidant relationship with him. But Cat seems to be more drawn to the "bad boy" types, and Isabel wants to break her of that habit...
I suppose being that this is the first book of a series, more time than normal would be spent on character development. That indeed is the case, but almost to the exclusion of the mystery plot. From a pure mystery novel view, it's rather slow. But I did find the characters interesting, enough that I was OK with reading the next two in the series. Of course, I had also hauled all three in my luggage, so I wasn't going to waste the space. :)
I can't compare this to Smith's other works prior to the Dalhousie series, as this is my first exposure to his writing. If I hadn't had the others lined up right after this one, I don't know that I would have continued. And with the perspective of the whole series, I'm happy with the overall effect. But if you're looking at this as a one-time read without plans to continue with the rest of the series, you might not be as happy.
- Relax! Enjoy it.
Enjoying the advantage of not having read Smith's previous works, I had few expectations coming in and found the story pleasant and interesting. (I listened to the tape.) One thing I liked was to see contemporary issues and life examined through past wisdom and insights; I think this lends a depth to the story. I also enjoyed the heroine's slow-paced social life, her kindly sense and humor, and the Scotch brogue with which the narrator on the tapes brings out the different characters. The heroine is a bit like G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown, only using philosophy in place of theology, to understand the world and solve problems. (Indeed, I couldn't help but reflect that many of the principles in her "applied ethics" also came up in Sunday school. Apparently George Bush's favorite political philosopher was pretty versatile.)
Don't buy this book if you're in a rush. It is not driven by the plot; in fact, it is not driven at all. It is, rather, like a leisurely walk through gardened bourgoise allyways, interupted by a gossipy chat with the neighbor about current happenings, and a pleasant spring vista or two.
author, Jesus and the Religions of Man...more info
- Great Insight into Human Behaviour
While McCall Smith's Isabel Dalhousie mysteries are not quite a gripping as the Ladies #1 Detective Agency Series, they provide the same keen insights into the human psyche. Not your typical murder mystery, the books actually challenge the reader to think forward to human actions and reactions. I enjoy reading these books because they stretch my brain far beyond the entertaining, if somewhat thin, mass market mysteries that I often read. I highly recommend all of McCall Smith's books!...more info
- Not bad, just not great
THE SUNDAY PHILOSOPHY CLUB is pleasant but middling company that has three problems. For the debut in a mystery series, it does not provide much establishment detail. More than once I checked to see if this was indeed the first volume, not several books down the line when a character's circumstances are taken by granted by a writer and not developed for a reader. Not the least of the details that has gone missing is the organization of the title, to which our heroine, an editor of a scholarly philosophy journal, belongs. She works through the mystery--did a young man fall or was he pushed from the nosebleed section of a symphony hall--largely on her own.
The second problem is that for those who like their puzzles with lots of switchbacks, deceptive red herrings and the like, the plot is pretty wispy. The third problem is, we have come to expect much from the author of the First Ladies Detective Agency series and this does not measure up to that achievement. That series creates an airtight and thoroughly realized world in modern Botswana, whereas The Sunday Philosophy Club moves around the contemporary, professional class of Edinburgh, Scotland without digging into history or culture to any degree. The Botswana stories have Mma Ramotswe, not perfect but thoroughly lovable. Isabel Dalhousie is not as funny and can be a tad judgmental, especially about her niece's love life. Isabel's housekeeper, Grace, steals all the scenes she's in.
The book does have its good moments. Philosophy is laid out rather accessibly and conversationally and the author pokes fun at scholarship that takes itself too seriously. I suspect the BBC could flesh this out into a nice television series.
I love the No 1 Ladies Detective series and was sure this would be the beginning of another great series. Sadly this is not the case. This book is a complete slog to get through. The characters are uninteresting, the mystery is mundane and the writing style is like a chain around your neck. The author drops name after name of Scottish painters and philosophers/writers. I felt like I was in a classroom lead by a pompous instructor who wanted to show off how well cultured and read he was. I found myself reading the same paragraphs over and over because my mind would wander from the book to more interesting things...like my grocery list....more info
- Yes, philosophers can be fun!
This series is not likely to have the wide appeal of the Precious Ramotswe books, because Isabel Dalhousie is a philosopher and an intellectual, and given to rumination on moral philosophy in particular. This will either irritate or delight you - it delights and interests me if I'm in the right mood and is only occasionally a bit much. Isabel's allusions to poetry, art and music are often thought-provoking, witty, and sometimes just plain fun! But if your desire is a good clean plot with no such clutter, these books will probably not be your cup of tea.
Isabel witnesses a young man's fall from the balcony of a concert hall and is driven by the memory and her sense of moral obligation to investigate the story behind his death, with the sometimes reluctant aid of her housekeeper Grace, her niece Cat, and her bassoonist friend Jamie. Along the way we meet a variety of characters - Cat's new boyfriend Toby, the young man's flatmates, an insensitive journalist, an investment fund manager, a predatory merchant banker who is compared to Lady Macbeth - and we observe the Edinburgh art scene as well as the world of insider trading. Many false leads develop, but at the very end the person responsible confesses the truth to Isabel and her persistence turns out to be a blessing.
The emotional fallout from Isabel's failed marriage and the subplot of her attraction to Jamie, a most attractive younger man (unfairly rejected by Cat because he is too eager to please, hence unexciting), continues into the second book in the series, Friends, Lovers and Chocolate, and provides romantic interest. Descriptions of Edinburgh institutions, fictional or actual, are fun -- the Really Terrible Orchestra (which is a real orchestra to which McCall Smith belongs!), the fictional articles which Isabel edits for the Review of Applied Ethics (i.e. "Truth Telling in Sexual Relationships"), the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (this could be real...) Edinburgh is almost a character in its own right - Isabel describes it as having become "synonymous with respectability...[which] was such an effort though...the story of Jekyll and Hyde was conceived in Edinburgh...and made perfect sense there." Isabel intends to write an article "In Praise of Hypocrisy" but had not gotten around to it by the end of the second book. Will it turn up in the third?
- The Sunday Philosophy Club
This book is slow, slow, slow. AM Smith spends a lot of space and energy on name dropping obscure and not so obscure authors and philosophers. Is this meant to be amusing? I wasn't amused. He is in love with his own words. His vocabulary is unnecessarily foggy!
It took forever to tell the "story" such as it was. And the problems got solved too quickly, too easily and in unrealistic ways.
- An absolute delight!
Isabel Dalhousie is a philosopher living a genteel life in Endinburgh, Scotland. She edits a journal of Philosophy, chats with her opinionated housekeeper and frets over the love life of her beloved niece, Cat.
She also feels that she has an obligation to consider the rights and wrongs in society, and when she observes a young man falling to his death at a local theatre, she feels an irrestistable compulsion to investigate.
This is just delightful - intelligent, witty writing, with our Isabel and her fellow characters entirely believable, and her musings on the murder also very entertaining. It doesn't work out quite as one would wish though - this is no standard murder mystery, but just what fans on Mr McCall Smith have come to expect from his lovely books about Precious Ramotswe.
This is only a relatively small book, but it is a gem, and well worth an afternoon of Sunday Philosophy!...more info