Edinburgh philosopher Isabel Dalhousie’s cases (The Novel Habits of Happiness, 2015, etc.) keep getting slighter and slighter. But her exceptionally well-titled 11th may be the slenderest of them all.
Beatrice Shandon has a problem. At one of the dinner parties in which she constantly seeks to mingle friends who already know each other with new people from outside their circle, she introduced Constance Macdonald, an acquaintance who’d been pressing for an invitation, to plastic surgeon Tony MacUspaig. Connie took instantly to Tony, but Bea now has reservations. More than reservations: she suspects that Tony may be a psychopath with a history of romancing wealthy women in order to extract money from them. Bea’s no good at all at working out problems like this; could Isabel, her old school friend, help? With an alacrity that puts Connie’s monumentally hesitant statement of the case to shame, Isabel agrees. Soon she’s chatting with Rob McLaren, the dinner guest who knew Tony from St. Andrews University; with Tony’s ex-girlfriend Andrea Murray, who reportedly attempted suicide after their breakup; and with his more recent friend Tricia Ferguson, who gave him 50,000 pounds from the trust fund her husband left her. But these inquiries don’t drive the story. Much more important are interludes in which Isabel reads letters to the editor of the Scotsman, offers money to a stranger whose bicycle has just been wrecked by a charging dog, and chats about this and that with Tricia Ferguson’s lawyer, who seems to have come to his office specifically in hopes that this irresistibly engaging conversationalist will drop in. Significantly, neither Connie Macdonald nor Tony MacUspaig ever appears in person.
“I have a tendency, I’m afraid, to think at a bit of a tangent,” the heroine confesses. Like-minded readers will fasten onto her latest plot-seasoned ruminations as manna from heaven.