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Bertie Plays The Blues (44 Scotland Street Series #7)

Bertie Plays The Blues (44 Scotland Street Series #7)

4.7 6
by Alexander McCall Smith

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The residents and neighbors of 44 Scotland Street and the city of Edinburgh come to vivid life in these gently satirical, wonderfully perceptive serial novels, featuring six-year-old Bertie, a remarkably precocious boy—just ask his mother.  

If you haven’t met the residents of 44 Scotland Street yet,



The residents and neighbors of 44 Scotland Street and the city of Edinburgh come to vivid life in these gently satirical, wonderfully perceptive serial novels, featuring six-year-old Bertie, a remarkably precocious boy—just ask his mother.  

If you haven’t met the residents of 44 Scotland Street yet, there is no better time, since everyone seems to be in the midst of new beginnings.
New parents Matthew and Elspeth must muddle through the difficulties of raising their triplets Rognvald, Tobermory and Fegus—there's normal sleep deprivation, and then there's trying to tell the children apart from one another. Angus and Domenica are newly engaged, and now they must negotiate the complex merger of two households. Domenica is also forced to deal with the return of an old flame, while Big Lou has begun the search for a new one, boldly exploring the new world of online dating and coming up with an Elvis impersonator on the first try. And in Bertie’s family, there's a shift in power as his father Stuart starts to stand up to overbearing mother, Irene—and then there’s Bertie, who has been thinking that he might want to start over with a new family and so puts himself up for adoption on eBay.  With his signature charm and gentle wit Alexander McCall Smith vividly portrays the lives of Edinburgh’s most unique and beloved characters.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 10/07/2013
Bestseller Smith's seventh 44 Scotland Street novel (after 2012's The Importance of Being Seven) provides another genial, witty glimpse into the life and times of the denizens of an Edinburgh neighborhood. Seven-year-old Bertie Pollock gets top billing in the title, but all the usual characters figure in the book's many subplots, including Bertie's parents, Irene and Stuart; schoolmates Ranald and Olive; Elspeth Harmony, her husband, Matthew, and their newborn triplets; Domenica Macdonald (now affianced to Angus Lordie); and the proprietress of the local cafe, Big Lou. How will Elspeth and Matthew cope with triplets? Where will Domenica and Angus live? Can Big Lou find happiness through online dating? And on the farcical side, can Bertie orphan himself by auctioning off his parents on eBay? Smith writes soap operas, but for a thoughtful, literate audience interested in the inherent conflict between the moral virtue of civility and the personal desire for happiness. As Angus puts it, there are people who "led the examined life—who questioned themselves, who weighed up what to do, who developed and nurtured the self." They are philosophical but always human, and Smith's great gift is to render—and reconcile—that contradiction. Agent: Robin Straus, Robin Straus Agency. (Oct.)
From the Publisher
"Devilishly clever. . . . Often droll, often touching, the Scotland Street stories are always delightful to read."
     —Booklist (starred review)

"Eighty more bite-sized chapters bring curious readers up to date on the latest doings at 44 Scotland Street and its Edinburgh environs. . . . The neighborhood’s legion of fans will devour each chapter and be sorry when they’ve turned the last page."
     —Kirkus Reviews

“Full of charm, gentleness and penetrating insight.”
     —The Daily Express (Scotland)
“You see the whole extent of McCall Smith’s gentle comedy of manners. . . . While it is written with abundant wit . . . there are equally large dollops of wisdom too.”
     —Scotland on Sunday

Praise for the 44 Scotland Street Series

“Sweet . . .  Graceful . . . Wonderful. . . . Gentle but powerfully addicting fiction.”
    —Entertainment Weekly
“McCall Smith’s assessments of fellow humans are piercing and profound. . . . [His] depictions of Edinburgh are vivid and seamless.”
     —San Francisco Chronicle
 “Irresistible . . . Packed with the charming characters, piercing perceptions and shrewd yet generous humor that have become McCall Smith’s cachet.”
     —Chicago Sun-Times
“McCall Smith’s plots offer wit, charm, and intrigue in equal doses.”
     —Richmond Times-Dispatch
“The most genial of writers and the most gentle of satirists. . . . [The] characters are great fun . . . [and] McCall Smith treats all of them with affection.”
     —Rocky Mountain News

Kirkus Reviews
Eighty more bite-sized chapters bring curious readers up to date on the latest doings at 44 Scotland Street and its Edinburgh environs (The Importance of Being Seven, 2012, etc.). The headline event, painter Angus Lordie's upcoming wedding to Domenica Macdonald, is threatened on two fronts. First, Domenica wants Angus to give up his place, whose high ceilings make it perfect for his work, and move into 44 Scotland Street, where they can have ample horizontal room if they purchase the adjoining flat, which Domenica's friend Antonia Collie, who plans to take vows as a lay sister in Italy, wants to sell. Then, more dangerously, that same flat throws Domenica together with her old flame Magnus Campbell, and sparks fly between them. More prosaically, Domenica's neighbors Matthew and Elspeth Harmony, exhausted by caring for their new triplets, hire Matthew's ex-girlfriend Pat Macgregor to help at the Something Special Gallery and Anna, a Danish au pair, to help with little Rognvald, Tobermory and Fergus. Their friend Big Lou's online date turns out to be an Elvis impersonator. Overbearing Irene Pollock continues to make life miserable for her husband, Stuart, who affronts her by joining a Masonic lodge, and their son Bertie, the 6-year-old prodigy who's been force-fed yoga, Italian, psychotherapy and saxophone lessons. Bertie's friend Ranald Braveheart Macpherson persuades Bertie to put himself up for adoption on eBay and, when that falls through, to run away from home to an adoption agency in Glasgow, an adventure that produces perhaps the single most promising development since the series began six volumes ago. Even more lightweight and inconsequential than previous installments in its abrupt inflation and deflation of domestic dilemmas. Yet, the neighborhood's legion of fans will devour each chapter and be sorry when they've turned the last page.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
44 Scotland Street Series , #7
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.32(w) x 7.96(h) x 0.70(d)

Read an Excerpt

1. The Question of Birth Order

Elspeth Harmony’s triplets arrived in the order that was to dog them for the rest of their lives: first, second, and third. They could not do otherwise, of course, but this was to determine so much for the three boys: emotional development, confidence, academic achievement, marriage, and ultimately – with that extraordinary synchronicity that nature can sometimes muster – the leaving of this world. Had the hospital not noted their order of appearance, and recorded it on the tiny bracelets fixed round the ankle of each by a nurse, then it would have been chance, rather than seniority, that governed how they fared in relation to one another. But these bracelets were put on, and the die, so to speak, was cast.

Matthew had some inkling about the significance of birth order within a family. As an only child, he had no sibling with whom to develop rivalries and other passions, but he knew so many who did. One friend, the youngest of five boys, had once opened up to him in a maudlin moment in the Cumberland Bar. “They’ve never taken me seriously,” he said. “Never. And everything I had at home – everything – was fifthhand. Fifthhand clothes, shoes, handkerchiefs – the lot.”

Matthew thought about this for a moment. “Fourth,” he said.

His friend, absorbed in self-pity, had said, rather peevishly, “Fourth? Fourth what?”

“Hand,” said Matthew. “It’s been through four hands by the time it reaches the fifth child. Therefore – fourthhand.”

Self-pity does not appreciate pedantry. “Fifth,” said Matthew’s friend. “Five owners – fifthhand.”

Matthew had stuck to his guns. “No. It depends on the number of hands it has been through. And something that’s secondhand has been through two sets of hands: the original owner’s and the new owner’s.”

“That means you have to count the fifth owner too,” said the friend. “My clothes were fifthhand. Five owners, including me.”

Matthew had lost the point. “You’re probably right. But anyway . . .”

“Well, it was awful, I can tell you. And it’s carried on all my life. Do you know my oldest brother? You’ve met him, haven’t you? He still treats me as if I’m six. He expresses surprise if he phones and my wife says I’m in the pub. He thinks I’m not old enough. He still thinks that.”

“It could be worse,” said Matthew. “You could have no siblings – like me. Nobody to compete with. Nobody to think you’re too young. Nobody to dilute parental attention.”

He was determined, of course, that he and Elspeth should make as few mistakes as possible in bringing up their triplets. A whole library of books had been purchased – each claiming to be the definitive guide to the raising of infants and young children. They had gone to a special talk put on for the parents of twins – prospective multiples had been the term used – and had listened intently to the advice that one should seek to achieve a balance between economy of scale and recognition of individuality.

“Your twin is a person, and not just a twin,” said the lecturer. “I call this the paradox of the shared self. We are all ourselves, but we are, at the same time, something other than an isolated self. We are a social self – a self defined by those with whom we live; a self that has imposed upon it a number of roles – the role of sibling, the role of child, the role of lover, the role of employee and so on. The self has so many facets.”

This required further thought. More immediate were the various questions raised by those attending, among them that of the effect on the child himself or herself of being a twin or, as the questioner somewhat untactfully put it, worse. This led to a discussion of the usual behavioural issues, and, significantly, to the issue of birth order.

“The experience of the multiple is different from other children,” explained the lecturer. “The twin or triplet does not have to deal with existing rights – unless there are already older brothers and sisters. So there will not be a brother or sister who can do things better, who has an established position in the family: the playing field is level in that sense. Unless, of course, you tell the children who is oldest. And, frankly, I don’t recommend that. Why create any sense of entitlement?”

“My father was a twin,” whispered Elspeth. “He knew that he was younger than his brother. By a couple of minutes, apparently.”

“Why did they tell him?” asked Matthew.

“They must have told them when they were very young. He said that he always knew.”

“We won’t tell,” said Matthew. “We don’t want to create any sense of entitlement, do we?”


They might not have wanted to, and yet they did. Five years later, in the face of persistent questioning, the parental position on birth order began to change and the official position that all three boys had been born at exactly the same time began to change. Yes, it was conceded, one had arrived first, but they claimed that they had forgotten who it was. That satisfied curiosity for a year or two, but the questions returned, and with the same determination as Mr. Tam Dalyell had shown in trying to winkle admissions out of Mrs. Thatcher on the sinking of the Belgrano, the boys managed to find out who was the oldest and who was the youngest. And so the fateful work was done, and the lottery of birth began to make its effects felt.

The first to be born was Rognvald, named after the Norse founder of the Earldom of Orkney, Matthew being Orcadian on his grandmother’s side. The tiny baby, so small to be burdened with so great a name, was taken from his mother’s arms, swaddled in a cloth, and given to his father, who wept with pride, with joy, as he looked down into the puckered little face. “Rognvald,” he muttered. “Hello, my darling.”

So moved was Matthew by this encounter that he quite forgot that Elspeth, still in the travails of labour, had two more babies to bring into the world. Matthew wanted to play with Rognvald, and had he brought with him to the hospital a Hornby Dublo train set – as some excessively keen fathers have been known to do – he would no doubt have set it up there and then and introduced his son to the pleasure of model railways. But all too soon, the nurse who had handed him Rognvald asked for him back. “You’ve got another one now,” she said. “Look.”

Matthew spent a moment placing the nurse’s accent. It had a touch of the Hebrides to it – Stornoway, perhaps. He said, “Where are you from?”

She said, “Mull. Tobermory.”

He was filled with gratitude. “We’ll call the next one Tobermory,” said Matthew. “As a thank you.”

2. The Naming of Boys

Tobermory’s tiny lungs, once filled with air, lost no time in expelling it in the form of a cry of protest. If birth – our first eviction – is a deeply unsettling trauma, and we are told by those who claim to remember it that it is, then this child was not going to let the experience go unremarked upon. Red with rage, he vented his anger as Matthew cradled him. “Hush, Tobermory,” the new father crooned. “Hush, hush.”

On her pillow of pain, already exhausted by the effort of giving birth to two boys, Elspeth half-turned her head. “Tobermory?”

“Just a working title,” said Matthew, above the sound of Tobermory’s screams. “It suits him, don’t you think?”

Elspeth nodded wearily. They had agreed in advance upon the name Rognvald, and had more or less decided on Angus and Fergus for the others, but Elspeth, being wary of having children who rhymed, was less enthusiastic about these last two names. Tobermory sounded rather attractive to her; she had been there once, on a boat from Oban, and had loved the brightly painted line of houses that followed the curve of the bay. Why were Scottish buildings grey, when they could be pink, blue, ochre? Moray Place, where they lived, could be transformed if only they would paint it that pink that one finds in houses in Suffolk, or the warm sienna of one or two buildings in East Lothian.

“Tobermory,” she muttered. “Yes, I rather like that.”

She returned to the task at hand, and a few minutes later gave birth to Fergus, who was markedly more silent than Tobermory, at whom he appeared to look reproachfully, as if censuring him for creating such a fuss.
The family of five was now complete. Matthew stayed in the hospital for a further hour, comforting Elspeth, who had become a bit weepy. Then, blowing a proud kiss to his three sons, he went back to the flat in Moray Place that the couple had moved into on the sale of their first matrimonial home in India Street. Once back, Matthew made his telephone calls – to his father, to Elspeth’s mother in Comrie, and to a list of more distant relatives whom he had promised to keep informed.

Then there were friends to contact, including Big Lou, who had been touchingly concerned over Elspeth’s condition during her pregnancy.

“You’re going to have to be really strong, Matthew,” she warned. “It’s not an easy thing for a lass to have triplets. You have to be there for her.”

You have to be there for her. Matthew had not expected that expression from Big Lou, whose turn of phrase reflected rural Angus rather than the psychobabble-speaking hills of California.
“I’ll be there for her, Lou,” he said, following her lead. “In whatever space she’s in, I’ll be there.”

“Good,” said Lou. “She’ll be fair trachled with three bairns. You too. You’ll be trachled, Matthew. It’s a sair fecht.”

“Aye,” said Matthew, lapsing into Scots. “I ken. I’ll hae my haunds fu.”

But now there was no word of caution from Big Lou. “They’re all right, are they, Matthew?” she said over the telephone.

He assured her that they were, and she let out a whoop of delight. This show of spontaneous shared joy moved Matthew deeply. That another person should feel joy for him, should be proud when he felt proud, should share his heady, intoxicating elation, struck him as remarkable. Most people, he suspected, did not want others to be happy, not deep down. However we pretended otherwise, we resented the success of our friends; not that we did not want them to meet with success at all – it’s just that we did not want them to be markedly more successful than we were. Matthew remembered reading somewhere that somebody had written – waspishly, but truly – every time a friend succeeds, I die a little. Gore Vidal: yes, he had said it. The problem, though, with witty people, thought Matthew, was working out whether they meant what they said.

And it was the same with money. If somebody knew you had money – and Matthew had, when all was said and done, slightly more than four million pounds, transferred to him by his father – if a friend knew that sort of thing, then his face would cloud over, just for a moment, as the emotion of envy registered itself. We do not want our friends to be poor, but by and large we prefer them to be slightly poorer than we are – just a fraction.

Big Lou meant what she said. She was delighted that Elspeth and the triplets were well; she was thrilled that Matthew was so happy; she was, moreover, very pleased that the population of Scotland had gone up by three at a time when demographic trends pointed the other way.

“I’m going to celebrate,” she said to Matthew.

“That’s great, Lou. How?”

“I’ll work something out,” she said.

Matthew realised that his enquiry had been tactless. Big Lou lived on her own, and the thought of her celebrating by herself, opening a bottle of wine, perhaps, in her flat in Canonmills and then drinking a toast that would be echoed by nobody else, saddened him. Life could be a lonely affair, and there was no justice in allocation of company. There were many selfish and unmeritorious people who were surrounded by more friends than they could manage; there were many good and generous people who were alone, who would love to have somebody to go home to, but who did not.

Big Lou was one of those. Matthew had met some of her male friends, and had taken a thorough dislike to them. There was that cook who had gone off to Mobile, Alabama, and who had shown excessive interest in young waitresses – Matthew had not liked him at all. Then there had been the Jacobite plasterer, who had gone on about the Stuarts and their restoration and who had, in Matthew’s view, been certifiably insane. No, Big Lou had not had the luck she deserved, but could anything be done about it? Should she wait until some man wandered into her life – if that was ever going to happen – or should her friends perhaps speak to her about a dating agency? Why not? Dating agencies worked – sometimes – and Matthew had read of one that allowed you to get as many men as you liked – seriatim, of course – for three hundred and fifty pounds. Matthew had three hundred and fifty pounds; perhaps he would speak to Big Lou – tactfully of course. Big Lou came from Arbroath, and people who came from Arbroath were fine people in so many ways, but could be unexpectedly touchy-touchy, not touchy-feely.

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, the 44 Scotland Street series, and the Corduroy Mansions series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served with many national and international organizations concerned with bioethics.

Brief Biography

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

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Bertie Plays The Blues: 44 Scotland Street (44 Scotland Street Series #7) 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 6 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another delightful visit with characters on Scotland Street. I love this series.
nolenreads More than 1 year ago
I love all the Scotland Street novels. Well, I love all the Number One Ladies Detective Agency novels, too. But the Scotland Street novel is set up in a different way. First, the series tells a rambling set of stories from many perspectives. There are so many characters here but each one is very unique, usually in a poignant or funny way. Even the dog has a point of view at one point when he gets lost and must use his nose to find his way back, not to his master but to the Italian bistro/grocery where his master shops. The dog has a gold tooth. In Bertie Plays the Blues, Bertie is six years old and suffers from and overbearing and obnoxious mother Irene. From birth practically, Irene has made him take yoga, Italian conversation classes, the saxophone, and psychotherapy. He doesn't mind all the classes and lessons but he does mind the pink room and raspberry-colored trousers. In this book, Bertie lets slip accidentally that his father has joined the Masons, something Irene abhors. Mayhem ensues. Also Pat has run into Bruce again and once again finds herself attracted to him despite his obnoxious narcissistic behavior.
JTM33 More than 1 year ago
So hooked on all of Smith's series. His dry sense of humor is amazing and storytelling so different. I pray he continues to write such delightful books.
Delphimo More than 1 year ago
44 Scotland Street characters create many emotions, especially Bertie, who never grows older than 6-years-old. The stories of Matthew and Elspeth and the triplets amuse the reader with the mixing of the identity of the boys and the sleepless nights until Anna, the nanny arrives. And the names for three little boys provides another laugh. Can anyone imagine growing up as Tobermory or Rognvald? Angus and Domenica waver between getting married and deciding where to live, as Pat runs into Bruce, and Big Lou bumps into an old boyfriend. Bertie decides his life is miserable with his tour de force mother, Irene, and plans to be adopted from an ad on eBay. What could be more fun than delightful characters and especially with Robert Ian Mackenzie reading the book? Alexander McCall Smith likes to instill a lesson into each story and this story dwells on love and understanding.
bbMO More than 1 year ago
Love this book. Love Smith's whole Bertie series. Have read all, and am patiently waiting for the release of the next book in the series. Maybe it's just me, because I love Scotland, I love Edinburgh, and I appreciate Smith's dry sense of humor. But, because of those things, I thoroughly enjoy this series.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
About the suggestion box result at the pact clans place, I like the idea. So I think you should do that.