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’s trip 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?”