Tag Archives: Alexander McCall Smith

“The Department of Sensitive Crimes – A Detective Varg Novel (1)” by Alexander McCall Smith

The Department of Sensitive Crimes: A Detective Varg Novel (1) (Detective Varg Series)

This is McCall Smith’s first novel set in Sweden, introducing a new protagonist, detective Ulf Varg. Why Sweden? McCall Smith has so many other irons in the fire! In books like the Number One Ladies Detective Agency series, the reader feels like he knows his territory (as well as his characters) so intimately. You can’t help but love Mma Ramotswe and Botswana. Does McCall Smith really know Sweden equally well? Or has he found a formula he plans to extend to new countries at random?

Indulge me while I ponder the matter of cultural appropriation. Again, why Sweden? Admittedly, McCall Smith’s novels deal with the interior life – the thoughts, feelings, joys and sorrows of his characters. So maybe it doesn’t matter where they are set. But will Swedes find his portrayal of their country sympathetic? Or condescending? Possibly stereotypical? And (getting down to the tiniest detail…) whence came the umlaut (double dot) over the “A” in McCall Smith’s name (see cover above). Sorry, Sir, you can’t just help yourself to an umlaut! That’s linguistic appropriation. Stay in your own lane, as we say in the USA. (This may prove that I have NO sense of humor.)

The plot deals with a series of criminal investigations, and with the interactions between a group of co-workers (and one “outsider”). Also included is Ulf Varg’s psychoanalyst, who conveniently illuminates the disorder afflicting a person targeted in one investigation, clinical lycanthropy. In other words, the overwhelming that delusion that one is, in fact, a werewolf. Clinical lycanthropy is NOT a crime.

I enjoyed the end  of this book (when a romance emerges) more than the beginning, so perhaps I will continue to read about Detective Varg. He and the other characters may grow on me.


Recent Reading

Hello, Friends! I’ve gotten WAY behind in writing for this blog. The last time I said that, I stated that the reasons were all positive – travel and other enjoyment. I’m afraid I can’t say the same this time. A close family member had serious health problems over the winter. I’ve been distracted, to put it mildly. Now, I can say (with cautious optimism) that things are back to normal.

For completeness sake, here’s a list of what I read but failed to write about:

“The Man Who Loved Books too Much: The True Story of a Thief, a Detective, and a World of Literary Obsession ” by Alison Hoover Bartlett

Three novels by Alexander McCall Smith:

  • “The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine” from the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series
  • “Sunshine on Scotland Street”
  • “The Novel Habits of Happiness” (Isabel Dalhousie series)

“The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer

“The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” by Mackenzi Lee

“The Orchardist” by Amanda Coplin

“The Word Detective – A Memoir – Searching for the Meaning of it All at the Oxford English Dictionary” by John Simpson

“The Glassblower” by Petra Durst Benning

“American Gods”: The Tenth Anniversary Edition by Neil Gaiman

So… I’ve been on a major fiction kick! Only two non-fiction titles in the list. One item in the Young Adult category, “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue”. More female authors than male.

I’ll write about some or all of these sooner or later. Leave a message if there’s a book here about which you feel particularly curious. Thanks!

“The Forever Girl” by Alexander McCall Smith

This isn’t McCall Smith at his very best. I’d save that accolade for the Number One Ladies Detective Agency series. But it’s good, of course. Setting is important. This book takes place on Cayman, and much is said about the trials of being an expatriate. Almost everyone in Cayman comes from somewhere else.

Our heroine, Clover, falls in love early and stays in love, following her desired one through the years and across continents. Finally, her love is reciprocated. I would have appreciated knowing more about the young man. Why the long delay and sudden change of mind? But McCall Smith likes to write about women…

Grab this book when you need something for a rainy day. It will keep you involved.

“The Sunday Philosophy Club” series by Alexander McCall Smith

It’s been two weeks since I posted about reading a book! What’s going on? There are books all over the house…

I went on an unusual (for me) binge of reading a single author, namely Alexander McCall Smith. I limited myself to the Sunday Philosophy Club series, aka the “Isabel Dalhousie” series. These books have charm! I enjoy them for several reasons.

Isabel Dalhousie is a delightful heroine – wealthy, scholarly, and kind. Her character flaw is a tendency to get involved in other people’s business. I’ve read six books in the eight book series. At this point, she feels like a distant relative, the kind that can be counted on to send a card every Christmas.

The library categorizes these books as mysteries, but Isabel is (usually) not out solving crimes. She deals in ethical dilemmas. What is one person’s obligation to another? How should neighbors and families live together? Fittingly, she is editor of a Journal of Applied Ethics.

The books are linked by the “super” plot of Isabel’s love life. Her sweetheart is a handsome young musician, fourteen years her junior. Initially, he dates Isabel’s niece, a young and restless woman who seems to have a new boyfriend every month. This family drama is in counterpoint to much of Isabel’s highly rational and organized life.

McCall Smith uses these books to offer his opinions about art, literature and culture in Scotland. I don’t, by any means, catch all his literary references, but I have fun trying. Maybe I’ll check out the poetry of W H Auden, whom Isabel quotes frequently. In one book, he takes a swipe at “the trolley problem”, an annoying preoccupation of certain academic philosophers.

Another point in favor of these books is that the series takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland. I was fortunate enough to visit there almost 20 years ago. So much about the city appealed to me!

I’m saving the last two books in the series for my next train trip or serious head cold. Why take a chance on the unknown when I know exactly where to find a book that is both comfortable and intelligent?

McCall Smith has written dozens of books – several series of novels, children’s books and law textbooks. I’d like to look at some of his earliest work and the novels that aren’t in his series. Who knows what I’ll find?! I hope McCall Smith keeps on writing. I will certainly keep reading!

“The Handsome Man’s Delux Cafe: No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency Series” by Alexander McCall Smith

Everybody loves Alexander McCall Smith! I started by reading The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency, stayed with that series for a while, and then branched out. I think I’ve read at least one book from each of his five series. Sometimes I’ve listened to his novels in the car. Perfect for long trips!

Is there anything new in The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe? Not really… just the pleasure of familiar characters in new situations.

Parts of The Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series were made into a BBC series for television. The quality was wonderful! How did someone find so many talented character actors? Too bad only six episodes were produced. However, 27 episodes for radio were broadcast by BBC Radio 4. I hope to track them down.

I feel lucky to have McCall Smith to give me an insider’s view of Africa. I don’t know whether I will ever travel to Africa, but if I do, Botswana will be on my list of destinations.

Having pondered McCall Smith’s extensive oeuvre, I’ve decided to read the Isabel Dalhousie series in its proper order. With that in my Kindle, I will be ready for anything – travel delays, doctors’ offices, you name it. If you feel stressed, read McCall Smith. He will take you “away” and warm your heart.