I usually enjoy Alexander McCall Smith’s books about Isabel Dalhousie, the Scottish philosopher. Smith is more famous for his “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency” series, but the previous six Dalhousie books have been gentle fiction, with a philosophy lesson or two tossed in for good measure.
With “The Lost Art of Gratitude,” Smith loses his way.
The jacket notes say that Isabel encounters her old adversary, financier Minty Auchterlonie, at a birthday party for Minty’s son.
No, she doesn’t.
Isabel, her son Charlie and Charlie’s father, Jamie, first see Minty at a local Edinburgh restaurant.
If there’s a main plot, I missed it.
Minty has issues with the paternity of her son and sends Isabel to act as an intermediary. Why would the editor of a philosophy magazine get involved in someone’s sordid extramarital affairs? Pun intended.
Then, there’s a sub-plot with Isabel’s high-strung niece, Cat, who dated Jamie before he fell in love with Isabel and fathered the too-cute-for-words toddler, Charlie. Cat’s dating a tightrope walker, which presents a whole other set of issues.
Then, there’s the matter of a plagiarism charge leveled at Isabel from a former editor of Isabel’s magazine, Review of Applied Ethics.
If all of this seems like a lot of disparate threads woven into a short novel, you’re right. The threads don’t have much connection to one another and the end product isn’t a very pretty tapestry. It’s not offensive, but I wouldn’t want to take it home and wrap myself up in it.
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