Prolific McCall Smith, who’s unaccountably neglected Professor Dr. Dr. (honoris causa) (mult.) Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld ever since the trilogy that ended with At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances (2004), presents five more adventures for the eminent but clueless philologist.
“Adventures” is a relative term, for von Igelfeld’s life, like Kant’s, is so regulated that the slightest departure from his normal routine or the comfort zone circumscribed by his advanced but recondite knowledge of Portuguese irregular verbs can be traumatic. Merely reading over an announcement that Professor Dr. Dr. Detlev-Amadeus Unterholzer, his incomparably less-celebrated colleague in Regensburg’s Institute of Romance Philology, has been shortlisted for an award is enough to launch him in an unaccustomed direction—this time to Berlin, where he asks the Director of the Leonhardt Stiftung as delicately as he can whether there might possibly have been some mistake among the nominating committee. Subsequent episodes bring von Igelfeld together with Kitty Benz, the well-heeled widow to whom his colleague Professor Dr. Dr. Florianus Prinzel and his wife, Ophelia, are bent on introducing him, and then to an intimate lunch with Frau Benz at Schloss Dunkelberg, the modest home that features a ceiling painted with a scene depicting her late husband’s entrance to heaven. Although this episode (spoiler alert) leaves von Igelfeld as unmarried as ever, he undergoes a different and utterly unexpected sort of change when he takes a group of graduate students on a study trip to an Alpine retreat—an experience that makes him a celebrity invited to give an after-dinner talk to a gathering of Hamburg businessmen in the final (for now) story.
Gently but invincibly obtuse, von Igelfeld is too much an elephantine cartoon to inspire the love readers have given Precious Ramotswe and Isabel Dalhousie.