Inspired and encouraged by verses from W.H. Auden, Edinburgh philosopher Isabel Dalhousie again confronts wickedness masquerading as mere crime.
A child’s birthday party is an unusual spot to get a new case, but that’s where high-flying investment banker Minty Auchterlonie asks Isabel to meet with Jock Dundas, who’s threatening to reveal their (now-ended) extramarital affair to her husband, Gordon McCaig, unless Minty gives Jock access to the son Gordon assumes is his. It’s a delicate mission, but no more delicate than the other tasks on Isabel’s plate. Her old nemesis Prof. Christopher Dove accuses her of condoning plagiarism as editor of the Journal of Applied Ethics. Her niece Cat, a deli owner who’s never quite gotten over Isabel’s continuing liaison with her former lover Jamie, the father of Isabel’s son Charlie, announces her engagement to Bruno, a tightrope walker and stunt man who seems utterly unsuitable. Jamie proposes marriage to Isabel, propelling her into a state of bliss that’s punctured only when her housekeeper expresses relief that now she can stop living in sin. And Isabel has to decide what to do about a neighborhood fox she’s been feeding when he turns up wounded but won’t let her touch him.
As usual in this wise and literate series (The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday, 2008, etc.), nothing much happens. Yet readers as sensitive as Isabel will turn the last page feeling that they’ve been through quite a bit, from a confrontation with monstrous evil to another round of struggles to help creatures in need.