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The Careful Use of Compliments (Isabel Dalhousie Series #4)

The Careful Use of Compliments (Isabel Dalhousie Series #4)

4.0 14
by Alexander McCall Smith, Davina Porter (Read by)

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Award-winning, New York Times best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith—creator of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series of novels—delivers the fourth tale from his charming Isabel Dalhousie series, featuring the highly ethical and plucky protagonist.


Award-winning, New York Times best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith—creator of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series of novels—delivers the fourth tale from his charming Isabel Dalhousie series, featuring the highly ethical and plucky protagonist.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series is a love letter for Botswana that has apparently enhanced tourism; in this novel, he tries to do the same for Edinburgh and the Hebrides isle of Jura. Porter does such a stunning job of bringing Jura's stark landscape to life that her dramatic reading might encourage listeners to book a Scottish sojourn. Philosopher/sleuth and new mother Isabel Dalhousie is still trying to forge a relationship with her son's father, Jamie. Porter also works wonders with Edinburgh dialect, at times stringing out Jamie's pronunciation of the word "No" into five syllables. She makes Isabel sound urbane, thoughtful, and sweetly hesitant to harm anyone else. To her credit, Porter refrains from adding some baby noises for three month-old Charlie. The only flaw in Porter's performance is that Isabel's voice makes her sound a decade or more older than her 40 years. Like McCall Smith's Edinburgh, this audio is exciting but not overly so, and like the city, it is certainly worth a visit. Simultaneous release with the Pantheon hardcover (Reviews, June 25). (Aug.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

This fourth Isabel Dalhousie novel may be Smith's best so far. Like his popular "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" stories, the Dalhousie tales explore complex relationships among engaging characters along with intriguing mysteries involving subtle moral issues. Here, Isabel faces several new challenges. A single mother with a much younger boyfriend, she is adjusting to parenthood while dealing with an overstepping housekeeper, a resentful adult niece, and an unethical attempt to wrest from her the editorship of Review of Applied Ethics. Meanwhile, her interest in a suspicious painting credited to a deceased artist takes her to a remote Scottish island and a surprising discovery that raises unexpected ethical questions. All issues are resolved with the gentle grace that typifies Smith's fiction. Davina Porter brings just the right amount of emotional involvement to her narration. Strongly recommended for general collections.
—R. Kent Rasmussen

Kirkus Reviews
Though she feels blessed by her niece Cat's ex-lover and their baby, Isabel Dalhousie's life is anything but settled in this fourth gently probing adventure (Espresso Tales, 2006, etc.). Here's a sticky problem for the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics: How do you deal with the resentment of your closest relative when you and her castoff boyfriend have become lovers and had a son? And it's not the only problem Isabel has to face. For one thing, she's about to get sacked. Prof. Christopher Dove, an ambitious London academic with no use for the likes of Isabel, has persuaded the board of editors to replace her with him. And it isn't only her post at the journal that he has an eye on; when a chance meeting throws him together with Cat, it's clearly mutual lust at first sight. Meantime, a less urgent but more complex problem has arisen with Isabel's dawning certainty that a painting by Andrew McInnes, who drowned eight years ago, is a forgery. What should Isabel do? Her quandary is deepened by the fact that after outbidding her at auction for the painting, lawyer/collector Walter Buie has offered to sell it to her in indecent haste. Emphasizing, as usual, ethical quiddities that most mysteries either ignore or take for granted, Smith produces another absorbing case in which Isabel doesn't so much detect as interfere in a quietly masterful way more frivolous sleuths can only envy.
From the Publisher
“Delightful…. McCall Smith's talent for dialog is matched only by his gift for characterization.”—Chicago Tribune “Just the right sort of thing to slip into a suitcase for an end-of-summer vacation.”—Dallas-Ft. Worth Star Telegram“Isabel Dalhousie is one of the most irresistible sleuths in modern fiction.”—Tucson Citizen

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Recorded Books, LLC
Publication date:
Isabel Dalhousie Series , #4
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Read an Excerpt

The Careful Use of Compliments

By Alexander McCall Smith


Copyright © 2008 Alexander McCall Smith
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781400077120

Chapter One

Take one hundred people,” said Isabel.

Jamie nodded. “One hundred.”

“Now, out of those one hundred,” Isabel continued, “how many will mean well?”

It was typical of the sort of trying question Isabel asked herself, in the way in which we sometimes ask ourselves questions that admit of no definitive answer. She was an optimist when it came to humankind, unfashionably so, and so she thought the answer was ninety-eight, possibly even ninety-nine. Jamie, the realist, after a few moments’ thought, said eighty.

But this was not a question which could be disposed of so easily; it raised in its wake other, more troubling questions. Were those one or two people the way they were because of the throw of the genetic dice—a matter of patterns and repeats deep in the chemistry of their DNA—or was it something that went wrong for them a long time ago, in some dark room of childhood, and stayed wrong? Of course there was quite another possibility: they chose.

She was sitting in a delicatessen when she remembered this conversation with Jamie. Now, from that convenient vantage point, she looked out of the window—that man who was crossing the road right then, forexample; the one with the thin mouth, the impatient manner, and the buttoned collar, was perhaps one of that tiny minority of the malevolent. There was something about him, she felt, that made one uneasy; something in his eyes which suggested ruthlessness, a man who would not wait for others, who did not care, who would suffer from road rage even while walking . . . She smiled at the thought. But there was certainly something unsettling in his demeanour, a hint of poisoned sexuality about him, she felt; a whiff of cruelty, something not quite right.

She looked away; one did not want such a person to see one staring; nor, she reminded herself, did she want to catch herself engaging in such idle speculation. Imagining things about perfect strangers might seem a harmless enough pursuit, but it could lead to all sorts of ridiculous fantasies and fears. And Isabel was aware that of all her manifold failings, thinking too much about things was one of the most egregious.

Of course a delicatessen in Edinburgh was not the most obvious place to entertain such thoughts on the nature of good and evil, but Isabel was a philosopher and knew full well that philosophical speculation came upon one in the strangest places and at the strangest times. The delicatessen was owned by her niece, Cat, and in addition to selling the usual things that such shops sold—the sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, the fresh anchovy fillets and the small bars of Austrian marzipan—this delicatessen served coffee at the three or four small marble-topped tables that Cat had found on a trip to the Upper Loire valley and that she had carted back to Scotland in a hired self-drive van.

Isabel was sitting at one of these tables, a freshly made cappuccino before her, a copy of that morning’s Scotsman newspaper open at the crossword page. Her coffee had been made by Cat’s assistant, Eddie, a shy young man to whom something terrible and unexplained had happened some time ago and who was still awkward in his dealings with Isabel and with others. Eddie had gained in confidence recently, especially since he had taken up with a young Australian woman who had taken a job for a few months in the delicatessen, but he still blushed unexpectedly and would end a conversation with a murmur and a turning away of the head.

“You’re by yourself,” said Eddie, as he brought Isabel’s coffee to her table. “Where’s the . . .” He trailed off.

Isabel smiled at him encouragingly. “The baby? He’s called Charlie, by the way.”

Eddie nodded, glancing in the direction of Cat’s office at the back of the delicatessen. “Yes, of course, Charlie. How old is he now?”

“Three months. More or less exactly.”

Eddie absorbed this information. “So he can’t say anything yet?”

Isabel began to smile, but stopped herself; Eddie could be easily discouraged. “They don’t say anything until they’re quite a bit older, Eddie. A year or so. Then they never stop. He gurgles, though. A strange sound that means I’m perfectly happy with the world. Or that’s the way I understand it.”

“I’d like to see him sometime,” said Eddie vaguely. “But I think that . . .” He left the sentence unfinished, yet Isabel knew what he meant.

“Yes,” she said, glancing in the direction of Cat’s door. “Well, that is a bit complicated, as you probably know.”

Eddie moved away. A customer had entered the shop and was peering at the counter display of antipasti; he needed to return to his duties.

Isabel sighed. She could have brought Charlie with her, but she had decided against it, leaving him instead at the house with her housekeeper, Grace. She often brought him to Bruntsfield, wheeling him, a wrapped-up cocoon, in his baby buggy, negotiating the edge of the pavement with care, proud in the way of a new mother, almost surprised that here she was, Isabel Dalhousie, with her own child, her son. But on these occasions she did not go into Cat’s delicatessen, because she knew that Cat was still uncomfortable about Charlie.

Cat had forgiven Isabel for Jamie. When it had first become apparent that Isabel was having an affair with him, Cat had been incredulous: “Him? My ex-boyfriend? You?” Surprise had been followed by anger, expressed in breathless staccato: “I’m sorry. I can’t. I just can’t get used to it. The idea.”

There had been acceptance, later, and reconciliation, but by that stage Isabel had announced her pregnancy and Cat had retreated in a mixture of resentment and embarrassment.

“You disapprove,” said Isabel. “Obviously.”

Cat had looked at her with an expression that Isabel found impossible to interpret.

“I know he was your boyfriend,” Isabel continued. “But you did get rid of him. And I didn’t set out to become pregnant. Believe me, I didn’t. But now that I am, well, why shouldn’t I have a child?”

Cat said nothing, and Isabel realised that what she was witnessing was pure envy; unspoken, inexpressible. Envy makes us hate what we ourselves want, she reminded herself. We hate it because we can’t have it.

By the time that Charlie arrived, tumbling—or so it felt to Isabel—into the world under the bright lights of the Royal Infirmary, Cat was talking to Isabel again. But she did not show much warmth towards Charlie; she did not offer to hold him or to kiss him, although he was her cousin. Isabel was hurt by this, but decided that the best thing to do was not to flaunt Charlie before her niece, but allow her to come round in her own time.

“You can’t carry on disliking a baby for long,” said Grace, who, imbued with folk wisdom, was often right about these things. “Babies have a way of dealing with indifference. Give Cat time.”

Time. She looked at her watch. She had put Charlie down for his nap almost two hours ago and he would be waking up shortly. He would want feeding then, and although Grace could cope with that, Isabel liked to do it herself. She had stopped breast-feeding him only a few days after his birth, which had made her feel bad, but the discomfort had been too great and she had found herself dreading the experience. That was not a way to bond with one’s child, she thought; babies can pick up the physical tension in the mother, the drawing back from contact. So she had switched to a baby formula.

Isabel would not leave the delicatessen without exchanging a few words with Cat, no matter how strained relations might be. Now she rose from her table and made her way to the half-open door to the office. Eddie, standing at the counter, glanced briefly in her direction and then looked away again.

“Are you busy?”

Cat had a brochure in front of her, her pen poised above what looked like a picture of a jar of honey.

“Do people buy lots of honey?” Isabel asked. It was a banal question—of course people bought honey—but she needed something to break the ice.

Cat nodded. “They do,” she said, distantly. “Do you want some? I’ve got a sample somewhere here. They sent me a jar of heather honey from the Borders.”

“Grace would,” said Isabel. “She eats a lot of honey.”

There was a silence. Cat stared at the photograph of the jar of honey. Isabel drew in her breath; this could not be allowed to go on. Cat might come round in the end—and Isabel knew that she would—but it could take months; months of tension and silences.

“Look, Cat,” she said, “I don’t think that we should let this go on much longer. You’re freezing me out, you know.”

Cat continued to stare fixedly at the honey. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said.

“But you do,” said Isabel. “Of course you know what I mean. And all that I’m saying is that it’s ridiculous. You have to forgive me. You have to forgive me for having Charlie. For Jamie. For everything.”

She was not sure why she should be asking her niece’s forgiveness, but she was. When it came to forgiveness, of course, it did not matter whether somebody was wronged or not— what counted was whether they felt wronged. That was quite different.

“I don’t have to forgive you,” said Cat. “You haven’t done anything wrong, have you? All you’ve done is have a baby. By my . . .” She trailed off.

Isabel was astonished. “By your what?” she asked. “Your boyfriend? Is that what you’re saying?”

Cat rose to her feet. “Let’s not fight,” she said flatly. “Let’s just forget it.”

From the Hardcover edition.


Excerpted from The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith Copyright © 2008 by Alexander McCall Smith. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, and the 44 Scotland Street series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with bioethics.www.AlexanderMcCallSmith.com

Brief Biography

Edinburgh, Scotland
Date of Birth:
August 24, 1948
Place of Birth:

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The Careful Use of Compliments (Isabel Dalhousie Series #4) 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 14 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Snoflinga More than 1 year ago
I love this series - as I love all of McCall Smith's books - and am working my way through it. I really enjoyed this installment too, with one huge exception which bothered me from the very beginning. It may not bother someone who is not reading the rest of the series, but the significant jump and 'lost time' between the end of the last book, when Isabel had just discovered her pregnancy, to the beginning of this one, where she is happily pushing a pram with a 3 month old son, irked me a great deal. So much of the series revolves around her relationship with Jamie and how they relate to each other, and a pregnancy and child would change that in such a major, major way; and yet all that was just left out of the picture. I felt incomplete. Like a whole book had been entirely left out and I was struggling to pick up the pieces. Will Jamie be a good father? Well WHO KNOWS? Was he buying pickles and ice cream 6 months ago? Did he rub her back during contractions? I don't know, because you left that part out!!! Bah, it's silly I know, but it drove me batty. ANYWAY... the book is very like the others in style, which is an excellent thing! A nicely constructed mystery is presented, worked through in parts, and an ending with perhaps a bit of surprise in it is tied up at the end. Very Christie-like. I adore the characters, I love the descriptions of Edinburgh and Jura and the details of relationships between people. Mr McCall Smith is very gifted in noting those little details of daily life we don't always recognize and then when we read them we think yes! I think that too! It's a great read.
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swmirsky More than 1 year ago
A "mystery" of a somewhat unusual sort, this one demonstrates that you don't need murder and mayhem to keep the "detective" in the game. Isabel Dalhousie is a Scottish lady in her early forties with a tidy inheritance and no need to work for a living, but does anyway as editor of a philosophy review with a smallish circulation. She doesn't earn much but doesn't need to, while it enables her to pursue her true passion: moral philosophy. How to live a good life and what that entails. But Ms. Dalhousie, with a wide circle of friends, and family members, doesn't stand apart from the world she is endlessly contemplating. As the book opens we learn Isabel's a recent mother, albeit unwed, though neither she nor her circle think there's anything wrong with that. Her lover, a musician, is a good deal younger than she and the former paramour of her niece. Greatly attached to his new son by Isabel, he is quite prepared to make an "honest woman" of his child's mother and loves Isabel, though with a level of passion more suited to a thoughtful and sensitive artiste than an ardent youth. But Isabel is having none of it . . . for now anyway. On the other hand their relationship has brought its own complications since the boyfriend's former lover, Cat, Isabel's headstrong niece, resents her aunt's "acquisition" of her cast-off lover. Into this complex of entanglements comes a mystery of sorts when Isabel, the ever thoughtful and self-doubting philosophical thinker, decides to buy a newly discovered painting by a deceased Scottish artist. The painting appears genuine except for some small oddities though Isabel is outbid at auction by an unknown person who departs hastily before she can identify him. Resolved to make the best of her loss, Isabel moves on with her life and is soon embroiled in the political shenanigans of academia. Trying to sort out her own feelings and choices under the pressure of the professoriate, Isabel is abruptly surprised to learn certain new facts about the mysterious painting. Despite the urgings of her young lover to stay out of others' affairs, the philosophically incautious Isabel can't resist the bait of the mysterious painting and the coincidences that keep coming up concerning it, plunging into a fray consisting, in equal measure, of certain mysterious persons and a long dead painter whose future seemed bright when he suddenly disappeared off the Scottish coast in what might have been an accident, suicide . . . or something worse. The real mystery is less the resolution of the painter's strange disappearance than how Isabel will resolve her many social entanglements without causing more harm than good. Along the way, we're treated to a lovingly traced Scottish countryside and it's rugged western coast along with the modern Euro-obsession with one's place in society via an almost obsessive concern for one's carbon footprint. Miss Dalhousie is an intriguing detective but she's no Philip Marlow nor even a Miss Marple. On the other hand, we're long overdue for the philosopher qua detective and Smith has done it with skill and verve. The well-known 20th century Cambridge philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was famously partial to mysteries when he wasn't contemplating more weighty matters. He'd have liked Dalhousie had he lived long enough to read about her. Stuart W. Mirsky, author of The King of Vinland's Saga
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Guest More than 1 year ago
I highly reccommend this series, Isabel struggles as many do with the ethics of every day situations. Many thoughtful comments result, I find myself underlining them to return to them later. I am highly anticipating Mr McCall Smith's next effort!
harstan More than 1 year ago
Edinburgh philosopher Isabel Dalhousie has recently given birth to a son Charlie, who is now three months old. Like most great philosophers, Isabel has doubts about her relationship with the child¿s dad, Jamie though she admits to herself he is quite good with their offspring. Jamie has no doubts as he wants to marry her but doubt is Isabel¿s middle name or should be. Meanwhile Jamie's former-girlfriend, café owner Cat, still desires him, but fears Charlie has ended any hope of taking him back from her Aunt Isabel. --- Isabel finds not only her relationship with Jamie challenged, but her pride and joy (besides Charlie that is) as the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics disputed due to unsavory academic politics. To get her mind away from how many of one hundred people have good intentions, she investigates the recent death of a relatively unknown but critically acclaimed painter who drowned in an accident and find out if t was a suicide or a homicide. --- Interestingly the mystery is a clever set up to further enable the audience to understand the Pollyanna of philosophy Isabel Dalhousie. Even her relationships with doting Jamie and jealous Cat is upbeat although diapers is not quite her beat. Isabel remains optimistic about Charlie¿s future once the lad wipes his own butt. Fans of Alexander McCall Smith¿s No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency tales will enjoy the Dalhouse stories although they are quite different. --- Harriet Klausner