October 11, 2008

The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday by Alexander McCall Smith (Review)

Posted in Book, Fiction, Review at 12:53 pm by Laura

“Novels. . . always false, elaborately constructed deceptions, but we believed them to be true while we were reading them; we had to, as otherwise there was no point.”

It seems a little funny to see my public library’s standard mystery sticker (a red skull on white background) on the spine of The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday, the latest installment in McCall Smith’s Isabel Dalhousie series. I suppose they are mysteries, in the same way that the Amanda Cross novels are mysteries, but deserving of a subgenre classification — literary mysteries.

Isabel is the editor of a philosophy journal and her favorite poet is W.H. Auden. Her life is full, with a small circle of loved ones, and her enjoyment of her work, art, and music. However, she continually finds herself beset by moral obligations — situations when she feels compelled to right a wrong or prevent something bad from happening. Her intuitions aren’t always correct and she exasperates those closest to her, but you always feel, in the end, that she meant well.

“It sounded so trite to her, even as she said it; the stock scene from the detective novel. The investigator reassures the distraught wife. Find out who’s blackmailing/having an affair with/holding prisoner my husband, please. Don’t worry, I’ll do what I can. And then the relief on the face of the supplicant. Stella looked relieved. Isabel stopped herself short. Don’t make light of human pain, she told herself. It’s not funny.”

I found The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday to have just the right mix of intrigue — did he do it or was he framed? — and character development. The mystery turned out to hinge on an ethical question that was a variant on the Trolley Problem.

Recommended for fans of the author’s other series, for Amanda Cross fans, and for anyone who likes “cup of tea” mysteries with likable main characters.