Once again confounding expectations, Alexander McCall Smith has written a mystery novel unlike any other. Inspired by a chance encounter with Tales of the City novelist Armistead Maupin, the author of the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency decided to write a novel under the pressure of daily serialization. Originally published in 110 installments in The Scotsman, 44 Scotland Street recounts the intersecting lives of inhabitants of a multiple-occupancy building in Edinburgh. At the center of the entertaining entanglement is Pat, a 20-year-old gallery employee who makes a startling discovery about a lost masterpiece.
It is clear even to an outsider that someone who knows Edinburgh would recognize many people and places in ''44 Scotland Street.'' But an outsider can still relish McCall Smith's depiction of this place ''of angled streets and northern light,'' and enjoy his tolerant, good-humored company.
The New York Times
Like Smith's bestselling Botswana mysteries, this book-comprising 110 sections, originally serialized in the Scotsman, that drolly chronicle the lives of residents in an Edinburgh boarding house-is episodic, amusing and peopled with characters both endearing and benignly problematic. Pat, 21, is on her second "gap year" (her first yearlong break from her studies was such a flop she refuses to discuss it), employed at a minor art gallery and newly settled at the eponymous address, where she admires vain flatmate Bruce and befriends neighbor Domenica. A low-level mystery develops about a possibly valuable painting that Pat discovers, proceeds to lose and then finds in the unlikely possession of Ian Rankin, whose bestselling mysteries celebrate the dark side of Edinburgh just as Smith's explore the (mostly) sunny side. The possibility of romance, the ongoing ups and downs of the large, well-drawn cast of characters, the intricate plot and the way Smith nimbly jumps from situation to situation and POV to POV-he was charged, after all, with keeping his newspaper readers both momentarily satisfied and eager for the next installment-works beautifully in book form. No doubt Smith's fans will clamor for more about 44 Scotland Street, and given the author's celebrated productivity, he'll probably give them what they want. Agent, Robin Straus. (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
This third volume of serial stories about the residents of 44 Scotland Street calls to addicted listeners just as viewers are called to afternoon soap operas. With a wry sense of humor and insight into human frailties, Smith explores the feelings of elation and worthlessness found in the relationships of the elder generation (Angus and Domenica), those of middle years (Irene, Stuart, and Bertie's psychoanalyst), and the younger set (Pat, Matthew, and a new character, Wolf). Robert Ian Mackenzie's aristocratic British diction doesn't seem to fit Irene and Bertie, but others are skillfully portrayed. Highly recommended where 44 Scotland Street is popular.
The denizens of 44 Scotland Street (Espresso Tales, 2006, etc.) spread their wings in the third volume of their ever more far-flung adventures, originally published as 113 daily installments in The Scotsman. "This is no fanciful picture of Edinburgh life, this is exactly as it is," announces Smith in a headnote aptly titled "The story so far." Certainly, it's a picture of Edinburgh life as it ought to be, even for series regulars who experience reversals. Art-history student Pat MacGregor, who's cast off one unsuitable man only to fall for another, continues impervious to the plaintive devotion of her friend Matthew, whose attainments as the owner of the Something Special Gallery have been enhanced by an infusion of £4,000,000 from his wealthy father. Painter Angus Lordie, saddened by the departure of anthropologist Domenica Macdonald for Malacca Straights, ponders whether his relationship with her friend Antonia Collie, a budding novelist who's subletting her flat, will ripen into something even closer, but is swiftly disillusioned. Angus's dog Cyril is pinched while he's tied outside the Italian grocery Valvona & Crolla, leaving both man and beast desolate. Big Lou Brown, who owns the coffee bar to which Matthew routinely repairs for caffeine and consolation, suddenly finds herself in danger of losing the place. And Bertie Pollock, the precocious six-year-old whose laughably overbearing mother has already pushed him to learn Italian and the saxophone, is cast despite his protests as Captain von Trapp in his class production of The Sound of Music and forced to audition for the Edinburgh Teenage Orchestra. In the novel's single funniest episode, he's left behind during the orchestra'strip to Paris and has to survive on his own wits, which are considerably sharper than those of his parents. Irresistible stuff. As Antonia wonders of Domenica: "Why did she bother going to the Malacca Straits when all this was going on downstairs?"
Praise for the 44 Scotland Street series:
“Irresistible. . . . Smith has rendered another winner, packed with the charming characters, piercing perceptions and shrewd yet generous humour that have become his cachet.” Chicago Sun-Times
“No doubt Smith’s fans will clamour for more about 44 Scotland Street.” Publishers Weekly
“[McCall Smith’s] sense of gentle but pointed humour is once again afoot. . . . The short chapters make for perfect bedtime reading.” The Seattle Times
“A characteristically sly and eccentric portrait of Edinburgh society.” Entertainment Weekly