THE SUNDAY PHILOSOPHY CLUB by Alexander McCall Smith (Alfred A. Knopf Canada), 256 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
In his lively new mystery series - the follow-up to his Precious Ramotswe books - Alexander McCall Smith has again chosen as his heroine a smart and sensible woman in her prime who likes to solve problems.
Isabel Dalhousie, full-time editor of the Review of Applied Ethics and part-time amateur detective, is cultured, single and financially independent.
When a young man falls to his death from the gods (the upper circle) of the Usher concert hall right before Isabel's eyes, she feels a moral imperative to find out if he did really commit suicide and why.
Teaming up with Jamie, a young bassoonist and definite toy-boy material - and with her no-nonsense housekeeper Grace's traditional Edinburgh Presbyterian outlook as ballast - Isabel sets off through the halls of Edinburgh's establishment on the trail of an insider trading rumour.
With thrifty descriptive detail, McCall Smith makes vivid the stony architecture and social mores of Edinburgh. This is not the forbidding city frequented by Ian Rankin's Rebus. Isabel's Edinburgh is the home of Hume and the Scottish Enlightenment, of whisky nosers and wry Scots humour.
McCall Smith, who teaches medical law at Edinburgh University, knows ethics; if you're hoping to follow Isabel's arguments, it doesn't hurt to have some background in the history of Western thought. But that aside, the plot moves right along through lies and half-truths to an outcome that has more to do with human emotions than with ideas.