three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
13-Nov-Dec-2004
user_rating: 
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An Isabel Dalhousie Mystery

A-SundayPhilosophyClubIsabel Dalhousie is a 40-something, independent woman, editor of the Review of Applied Ethics, president of the Sunday Philosophy Club (which rarely meets), and a terrible busybody. When she witnesses a young man plunge to his death from a balcony at an Edinburgh concert hall, Isabel questions whether it was suicide—or murder. Her sense of moral obligation prevails, and she sets out to discover the truth. Enter her unsatisfied niece and handsome suitor, an uptight housekeeper, a shady banker, and the deceased’s roommate, and Isabel’s got her hands full.
Pantheon. 247 pages. $19.95. ISBN: 0375422986

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"McCall Smith’s new protagonist is plucky and smart; questions of conscience suffuse every aspect of her life. … McCall Smith’s assessments of fellow humans are piercing and profound." Allison Block

New York Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"[Dalhousie’s] penchant for conducting moral arguments with herself is well-developed, but it can be less than riveting for the reader. … The Sunday Philosophy Club is the kind of leisurely, atmospheric, epicurean book in which Cat can always be counted on for an appreciative comment on smoked salmon." Janet Maslin

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Isabel … is every bit as endearing [as Precious] in her own eccentric fashion. … Isabel’s search for truth (and a moral solution to murder) follows a route that offers tantalizing glimpses of Edinburgh’s complex character and a nice, long look into the beautiful mind of a thinking woman." Marilyn Stasio

Newsday 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The Sunday Philosophy Club is as much a mystery of moral responsibility and manners as it is an inquiry into a suspicious death. … Thanks to its memorable minor characters, intriguing, troubled heroine, local color and bracing Scottish patter, the first Isabel Dalhousie novel is by no means a stopgap before the next No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency installment, due in April." Kerry Fried

Rocky Mountain News 1.5 of 5 Stars
"The problem with The Sunday Philosophy Club—a running joke, by the way, since the club apparently rarely meets—is that it meanders along, much like the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series, but without as much of the charm. … None of the characters is particularly interesting, save the no-nonsense housekeeper who has a strong, unchangeable opinion on everything." Marty Meitus

Critical Summary

The Dalhousie series is "sure to be a second hit franchise," notes The New York Times. That may be, but it’s currently suffering inevitable comparisons with the popular No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. Sunday Club rambles along just as slowly and develops its sense of time and place just as whimsically. Still, something—maybe the charm?—is missing. This time, McCall Smith, a professor of medical law, examines both a mysterious death and moral responsibility. Isabel’s ethical musings may bore some of us shallow folk, though McCall Smith’s psychological insight fascinates. And, while critics liked Isabel, they didn’t heap on the effusive praise they’ve reserved for the charming Precious (see The Full Cupboard of Life, 4 of 5 Stars July/Aug 2004). So, sit back, take a deep breath, and wait for the second installment … what’s the rush?