Posted in Book Stuff

*Friends, Lovers, Chocolate

The second of the Isabel Dalhousie mysteries by Alexander McCall Smith, Friends, Lovers, Chocolate is, loosely, about a man with a transplanted heart who believes that he’s having visions related to the death of his donor.

I say loosely because this is a meandering novel that is more about what people make of coincidence than it is about solving a mystery, though the mystery is solved in a way that is consistent with the main character’s rational approach to life.

Isabel Dalhousie is an independently weatlhy philosopher who edits an academic journal on applied ethics. She is a thinker and the novel is largely taken up with her thoughts on morality, history, and all the other questions that catch her fancy by chance as she wanders through her daily life. She is a decent woman, attractive enough, conscious of her age (early forties), intelligent, not immune to jealousy or unrequited love, but attempts to act well despite the power of those emotions. She is an interesting protagonist.

I found the novel pleasant. I kept expecting a turn of events that would bring danger and menace to the story, but though there were hints it was possible, that never happened. Instead the story strolled through Isabel’s life, her thoughts, her struggle with her passions, not a great struggle but a quiet one.

It was a good read for a couple of hot days when I wanted to do very little but lie around and read. There were about half a dozen lines in the book that were beautiful–enough to show that Smith could write much better if he wished, though probably not as quickly. It’s a good enough book. It isn’t exquisite, it didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat. The structure is loose. I wouldn’t rush out to get the next in the series. But it was just right for the heat and it would be good for the flu. I’m sure I’ll visit with Isabel another time.


Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

16 thoughts on “*Friends, Lovers, Chocolate

  1. I haven’t read this one – yet. I do like the Isabel books, but you’re right about the pace and structure. Once I’d slowed down my reading and gave up expecting any drama I really enjoyed the books. I particularly like reading her thoughts.

  2. I like the Isabel books for all the reasons you describe. They’re a nice, peaceful read, sort of like a meandering walk through the meadow. I’ve read all of them, I think.

  3. Hi Lilian. I’ve heard how hot it is in town; glad you got some good reading in. I get too impatient with mysteries, always turn to the end to find out whodunnit. The worst imaginable reader for these authors…

    1. LOL, Rhea. When I was a kid I’d do that all the time. But the best mysteries are about the journey not the solution. Try something by Fred Varga (for the psychology) or Laurie R. King (for the history and feminism) if you’re in the mood.

  4. Sounds like the perfect slowed-down pace for your steamy summer days, Lilian! But for some reason, I suspect this would, at the present time, make me dreadfully impatient… I guess that’s how I’m feeling in my own life with this interminable countdown, so perhaps this is one to read when I am more in tune with its mood!

  5. I’ve tried McCall Smith only once, with the 1st Ladies Detective Agency and it wasn’t my thing at all. Not even for a quick, nothing-else-to-do read. But it is interesting to me what you say about his being able to write something better if he wished. I imagine it must be very difficult to get out of a genre once you’ve written yourself so fully into one.

    1. Verbivore it is surprisingly difficult. I wanted to write a mystery as a one-off thing and after spending a couple of years at it, was advised that it meant an entire career change and I would be expected to continue in the genre year after year. I just couldn’t commit to that, so ended up spending several more years rewriting it as a literary novel. In the end I’m happy about how it turned out, but I had no idea the work involved!

  6. Like Verbivore, I tried this author once and just couldn’t get him to work for me. I’m sure I’ll try again another day, but I know I’m not great with meandering structures. Still, when I decide that’s exactly what I’m in the mood for, I’ll know which book to pick up. πŸ™‚

  7. I’ve just read book 6 in the series. I love them all. They make a gentle, lovely change from all the plot-driven novels I race through. Some of the pondering of ethics is actually quite challenging, I find, and the spaciousness of the novels won’t allow you to rush away from it. Sorry, Lilian, to enjoy these to the full you have to read them in order and savour the slow evolution of Isabel’s and Jamie’s relationship – no skipping ahead!

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