Smith puts the chronicles of Botswana’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency on hold to explore an equally civilized Edinburgh criminal scene that Ian Rankin’s DI John Rebus would never recognize.
Isabel Dalhousie doesn’t like Stockhausen, but his impossible music on the bill at the Usher Hall is followed by an even worse discordance on the opening page: A beautiful young man plummets “from the gods” above Isabel’s seat in the grand circle and lands with a dreadful impact below. In due course, Isabel will learn that the fallen angel, Mark Fraser, worked in the funds department at McDowall’s, where he’d recently been talking quietly about a colleague whose insider trading he could prove. It’s page 69, however, before Isabel can suggest that “I don’t think that it was an accident.” Meanwhile, and afterwards as well, she’ll spend less time questioning suspects than editing essays submitted to the Review of Applied Ethics and growing increasingly unhappy over her niece Cat’s unsuitable young man Toby. The result is a detective story with charm, warmth, and virtually no detection. There aren’t even any meetings of the Sunday Philosophy Club.
Lacking Precious Ramotswe’s exotic locale (The Kalahari Typing School for Men, 2003, etc.), Isabel has to get by on civility and moral starch. But this new series, which makes Edinburgh feel as intimate as Mma Ramotswe’s Gaborone, just might fill the bill for patient, literate readers mourning the death of Amanda Cross.