More felony-free mystery for Edinburgh philosopher Isabel Dalhousie (The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds, 2012, etc.), for whom all the world is one moral conundrum after another.
Kirsten, the downstairs neighbor of Isabel’s friend Sam, has an unusual problem. It’s not so much a problem as a question: Why does her 6-year-old son, Harry, keep going on about his other life, the one that involves a different home and a different family? Isabel knows all about the imaginary friends of children—her husband, bassoonist Jamie, created one himself as a child—but Harry’s tales of living in a house by the sea with the Campbell family and a view of offshore islands and a nearby lighthouse seem unusually detailed and consistent from one telling to the next. Can Isabel help, not just by lending a sympathetic ear, but by actually getting to the bottom of the little mystery that’s causing Kirsten such anxiety? Of course she can, as soon as she tears herself away from a deliciously snarky exchange with her nemesis, professor Christopher Dove, at the Enlightenment Institute, and puts aside her musings about her niece Cat’s unwontedly sensitive and intellectual new boyfriend, Mick, who bears a remarkable resemblance to Jamie. Isabel asks her spiritualist housekeeper, Grace, about reincarnation, gets a line on a likely lighthouse in Ardnamurchan from her friend Peter Stevenson, travels there in the company of Peter’s friend Neil Starling, and then finds a completely different answer to her riddle. But the most memorable episodes—Isabel’s impromptu tea with the wife of Dove’s unpleasant mentor, Robert Lettuce, and her perusal of “The Ethical World of My Mother,” an essay professor Geoffrey Trembling has submitted to The Review of Applied Ethics—have nothing to do with the mystery that provides a pretext for Isabel’s ruminations.
The woolliest of Isabel’s ten appearances to date and the one that makes the most decided case for the mental digression as a structural principle.