Momentous crises loom for several denizens of 44 Scotland St. and environs—and this time, a few of them find momentous resolutions.
As 7-year-old Bertie Pollock submits meekly to more rounds of abuse by his horrid classmate, Olive, his statistician father, Stuart, is angling for a big promotion that pits him against two strident but incompetent women, and his formidable mother, Irene, is plotting to leave Edinburgh to begin a Ph.D. program in Aberdeen with her sometime lover, psychiatrist-turned-professor Hugo Fairbairn. Bruce Anderson, God’s gift to women, has a bizarre proposal to offer his old girlfriend Pat Macgregor, who, despite her acute awareness of his hopeless narcissism, can’t help being smitten with him all over again. Pat’s boss, gallery owner Matthew, and his wife, Elspeth, fret over replacing their triplet sons’ unsuitable Danish au pairs, whom they fired for cause (The Bertie Project, 2017)—and Matthew’s attempt to avoid an embarrassing meeting with his old teacher Mrs. Patterson Cowie lands him in trouble with the police. Anthropologist Domenica MacDonald wonders whether she really loves her bridegroom, painter Angus Lordie, or whether she’s just going through the motions for the sake of quiet and convenience. The author’s special gift in this long-running franchise is to take each of these moral dilemmas equally seriously, so it’s anyone’s guess which of them will turn out to be consequential and which merely agreeably vexing.
Shorter and less digressive than earlier installments, with most of the complications wrapped up in an even more suspiciously tidy way than usual. But readers who’ve come to know and love these characters can only rejoice in their rescue from trivial problems that can suddenly balloon to monstrous size.