Isabel Dalhousie’s ninth case, if you can call it that, casts the editor and owner of the Review of Applied Ethics in her strangest role yet.
Country gentleman Duncan Munrowe has inherited quite an art collection, but the last opening of his house to the public has left it without its star, Nicolas Poussin’s Time Reconsidered. Knowing that the painting is insured for its considerable value, the thieves have taken the not-unusual step of negotiating a reward—that is, a ransom, Isabel tells herself—for its safe return. Duncan wants Isabel (“A private detective? An agony aunt? Or simply a friend?”) to hold his hand through these negotiations, advising him of what’s morally the best thing to do for his inheritance, for the painting and for the Scottish National Gallery, to which he’d planned to leave it. Isabel, who’s been brought into the case for more subtle reasons than she knows, and whose role will turn out to be more active and complex, is mildly affronted by Heather Darnt, the denim-clad lawyer acting as the thieves’ go-between, and she’s a bit taken aback when each of Duncan’s grown children, civilized Alexandra and rebellious Patrick, decorously indicate that the other one may well be behind the theft. Luckily, Isabel has other distractions from this seamy business. She’s asked to intervene in the hopeless romance between her niece Cat’s downscale assistant, Eddie, and his girlfriend, Diane, whose parents are convinced she can do better. And she can’t help intervening when she learns that her longtime housekeeper, Grace, has been plying her 3-year-old son, Charlie, with olives (a forgivable indulgence) and instruction in arithmetic (considerably less forgivable).
Middling for Isabel’s deliciously essayistic adventures (The Forgotten Affairs of Youth, 2011, etc.) among the moral conundrums posed by crime, romance and people you meet in shops.