Life goes on, and on in this fifth helping of luminously understated adventures for the denizens of 44 Scotland Street and environs.
Edinburgh, reflects improbably wealthy gallery owner Matthew, “was always the same; nothing ever changed.” But the cumulative effect of tiny changes day after day is to make the city a different place. Matthew himself is the prime example. He’s thrown over adoring employee Pat MacGregor for schoolteacher Elspeth Harmony; their wedding begins Smith’s latest cycle of 100 chapters originally serialized in The Scotsman. Dropping Pat as completely as Matthew does, Smith makes it clear during an Australian honeymoon that marriage with Elspeth requires unexpected adjustments. Back home, Matthew’s painter friend Angus Lordie must cope with domestic changes of his own, courtesy of his gold-toothed dog Cyril (a challenge that’s resolved as abruptly as it arose) and gangster Lard O’Connor, who leaves Angus with what just might be a magically important portrait. Anthropologist Domenica Macdonald plots to recover a Spode cup that friend and neighbor Antonia Collie filched from her flat and finds out more about Antonia than she ever wanted to know. Warmhearted Big Lou Brown, who presides over the Morning After Coffee Bar, plays unwilling hostess to Scotland’s most distinguished fugitive. Pat’s ex-boyfriend, narcissistic Bruce Anderson, caroms from one undeserved bit of good fortune to the next, only to be stricken by a sudden change of heart. And six-year-old Bertie Pollock, who begs to join the Cub Scouts so he can escape the suffocating attentions of his controlling mother Irene and his vile little schoolmate Olive, meets crime novelist Ian Rankin in a novel role.
The elevated proportion of reminiscences, facts and opinions to incremental new developments suggests that Smith’s prodigious invention for gently pointed incidents may be flagging. But no fan of this civilized and civilizing soap opera (The World According to Bertie, 2008, etc.) will want to skip an installment.