Synopses & Reviews
With The Sunday Philosophy Club
, Alexander McCall Smith, the author of the best-selling and beloved No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels, begins a wonderful new series starring the irrepressibly curious Isabel Dalhousie.
Isabel is fond of problems, and sometimes she becomes interested in problems that are, quite frankly, none of her business. This may be the case when Isabel sees a young man plunge to his death from the upper circle of a concert hall in Edinburgh. Despite the advice of her housekeeper, Grace, who has been raised in the values of traditional Edinburgh, and her niece, Cat, who, if you ask Isabel, is dating the wrong man, Isabel is determined to find the truth if indeed there is one behind the man's death. The resulting moral labyrinth might have stymied even Kant. And then there is the unsatisfactory turn of events in Cat's love life that must be attended to.
Filled with thorny characters and a Scottish atmosphere as thick as a highland mist, The Sunday Philosophy Club is irresistible, and Isabel Dalhousie is the most delightful literary sleuth since Precious Ramotswe.
"Murder and moral obligation mingle in this whimsical new series from the author of the smash hit The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency
. McCall Smith's new heroine is Scottish-American philosopher Isabel Dalhousie, a single woman of independent means who edits the esteemed Review of Applied Ethics
and presides over the titular club. When Isabel witnesses fund manager Mark Fraser fall from a balcony after a performance at an Edinburgh concert hall, she feels obliged to investigate the gentleman's demise. 'I was the last person that young man saw,' Dalhousie tells her beloved niece, Cat. 'The last person. And don't you think that the last person you see on this earth owes you something?' Given her affinity for applied ethics, questions of conscience are a daily concern for Isabel, and the more she thinks about Fraser's fall, the less accidental it seems. Among those who might have pushed him: his shifty roommate, his colleague's scheming spouse and a disgruntled broker with a craving for cash. Fans of Botswanan heroine Precious Ramotswe are sure to embrace Scotsman McCall Smith's plucky new protagonist, who leads a cast of delightfully quirky characters that includes Toby, a dapper bachelor with a dubious understanding of fidelity, and Grace, Dalhousie's morally upright housekeeper, who sizes up society's reprobates in two syllables or less. Scotland's climate may be misty and cool, but McCall Smith's charming prose warms every page of this winning series debut. Agent, Robin Strauss. (Sept. 28) Forecast:
Fans will quickly be reassured that McCall Smith's latest possesses all the gentle humor and keen insights into human nature that characterized his Mma Ramotswe novels, and they will buy, buy, buy accordingly." Publishers Weekly
(Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[A] detective story with charm, warmth, and virtually no detection....[T]his
new series...just might fill the bill for patient, literate readers mourning the death of Amanda Cross
." Kirkus Reviews
"Scotland's climate may be misty and cool, but the author's gentle humor and keen insights into human nature warm every page of this engaging series debut." Booklist (Starred Review)
"Dalhousie...equals Precious Ramotswe in intelligence and moxie....While the plot takes a few unexpected turns, it is ultimately resolved too quickly and easily, all the while preparing the reader for future installments." Library Journal
"[McCall Smith writes] the best, most charming, honest, hilarious, and life-affirming books to appear in years." The Plain Dealer
"Present-day Edinburgh, Scotland, might seem tame compared with Southern California in the 1960s, but there is plenty going on there to judge by The Sunday Philosophy Club, the first in a new series by Alexander McCall Smith." Wall Street Journal
"Mr. Smith, a fine writer, paints his hometown of Edinburgh as indelibly as he captured the sunniness of Africa. We can almost feel the mists as we tread the cobblestones. Ah, but his heroine." Dallas Morning News
"As in Smith's other books, the crime-solving angle is hardly the heart of the novel. The Sunday Philosophy Club leaves plenty of time for pondering moral conundrums, the drinking of steaming cups of hot brew (coffee, in this case) and fussing over romantic problems." The Oregonian (Portland, OR)
"Once one adjusts to the tone, it is easy to warm to The Sunday Philosophy Club....Fans of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective series should easily be able to take these Scottish characters into their hearts as easily as they did the ones in Botswana." BookReporter
"Genial....Wise....Glows like a rare jewel." Entertainment Weekly
"The literary equivalent of herbal tea and a cozy fire....McCall Smith's Scotland [is] well worth future visits." The New York Times
"In Mma Ramotswe, [McCall Smith] minted one of the most memorable heroines in any modern fiction. Now, with the creation of Isabel Dalhousie...he's done it again....She's such good company, it's hard to believe she's fictional. You finish this installment greedily looking forward to more." Newsweek
"Charmingly told....Its graceful prose shines, and Isabel's interior monologues meditations on a variety of moral questions are bemused, intelligent and entertaining." The Seattle Times
"Whimsical....[A] memorable cast of characters....McCall Smith's assessments of fellow humans are piercing and profound....[His] depictions of Edinburgh are vivid and seamless....His fans...are sure to embrace these moral peregrinations among the plaid." San Francisco Chronicle
"Alexander McCall Smith has become one of those commodities, like oil or chocolate or money, where the supply is never sufficient to the demand....[He] is prolific and habit-forming....[His] gift, one of them, is to inspire an eagerness to follow....McCall Smith has done his job. Isabel lives. A series is born." The Globe and Mail (Toronto)
"Like walking down the street with an amazingly literate, thoughtful, witty and self-deprecating friend through a city that friend knows and loves well." The Times-Picayune (New Orleans)
"Memorable....The Sunday Philosophy Club will delight McCall Smith's existing fans and win him some new ones." St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Charming....Suspenseful....A pleasant introduction to a woman readers will want to know more about." Detroit Free Press
"A quiet mystery aimed in equal parts at the head and the heart." The Patriot News (Harrisburg, PA)
"Devotees of Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series are certain to enjoy these new people and this new place....To know Isabel Dalhousie is to like and admire her." Chicago Tribune
"Readers will be immediately smitten with the interplay between the philosopher, her tradition-bound housekeeper Grace and her unlucky in-love niece Cat." Ft. Myers News-Press
"An elegant mystery filled not with dead bodies but an air of gentle refinement, intelligence and insight....Isabel is a true original." Orlando Sentinel
Introducing Isabel Dalhousie the heroine of the latest bestselling series from the author of the <'>No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. Isabel, the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics and an occasional detective, has been accused of getting involved in problems that are, quite frankly, none of her business.
In this first installment, Isabel is attending a concert in the Usher Hall when she witnesses a man fall from the upper balcony. Isabel can't help wondering whether it was the result of mischance or mischief. Against the best advice of her no-nonsense housekeeper Grace, her bassoon playing friend Jamie, and even her romantically challenged neice Cat, she is morally bound to solve this case. Complete with wonderful Edinburgh atmosphere and characters straight out of a Robert Burns poem, The Sunday Philosophy Club is a delightful treat from one of our most beloved authors.'>
ISABEL DALHOUSIE - Book 1
Nothing captures the charm of Edinburgh like the bestselling Isabel Dalhousie series of novels featuring the insatiably curious philosopher and woman detective. Whether investigating a case or a problem of philosophy, the indefatigable Isabel Dalhousie, one of fiction’s most richly developed amateur detectives, is always ready to pursue the answers to all of life’s questions, large and small.
In this first installment, Isabel is attending a concert in the Usher Hall when she witnesses a man fall from the upper balcony. Isabel can’t help wondering whether it was the result of mischance or mischief. Against the best advice of her no-nonsense housekeeper Grace, her bassoon playing friend Jamie, and even her romantically challenged niece Cat, she is morally bound to solve this case. Complete with wonderful Edinburgh atmosphere and characters straight out of a Robert Burns poem, The Sunday Philosophy Club is a delightful treat from one of our most beloved authors.
About the Author
Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. He was born in what is now known as Zimbabwe and was a law professor at the University of Botswana. He lives in Scotland, where he is a professor of medical law at Edinburgh University. In his spare time he is a bassoonist in the RTO (Really Terrible Orchestra).
Reading Group Guide
1. Isabel Dalhousie is a single, wealthy, literary woman of settled habits with a strong interest in moral behavior. In what ways is she a model female sleuth, and in what ways is she a surprising one? How does she compare with Precious Ramotswe of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency? How does she compare with other female detectives in literature?
2. Geoffrey McManus is a person with terrible manners. He interrogates Isabel, wanting to know how the face of the dead man looked as he was carried out on a stretcher, then he insults her, calling her “spinster of this parish” [p. 34]. Toby, too, according to Isabel, has bad manners; she notes that he reaches eagerly for the largest pieces of the smoked salmon at dinner. Isabel speaks of “the decline of civility” [p. 108]. Why are peoples manners a point of interest for Isabel [pp. 140-41]? Should The Sunday Philosophy Club be considered a novel of manners, in the tradition of Jane Austen and Henry James? How are manners indicative of a persons moral philosophy?
3. Judging by her realization that even though she wants John Liamor back he will never return to her [p. 47], it seems that Isabel is the kind of person who loves only once in life. However, there are hints that her affection for Jamie might develop further. Does the story suggest that Isabel and Jamie are better suited to each other than Cat and Jamie?
4. Consider the description of John Liamor [pp. 40-43] in light of “the best interests test and the personal chemistry test” [p. 73]. Is he a good choice for Isabel? What do we learn about him from Isabels description of their visit to Ireland [p. 81]? Is her continuing love for him purely irrational? What drives it?
5. Cat is annoyed at Isabels tendency to get involved in things that are none of her business [p. 69]. Isabel insists, on the other hand, that the man who fell from the balcony entered her “moral space”—and that she therefore has a moral obligation to him. Is Isabel correct in arguing for proximity as a basis for moral claims [p. 70]? If she is right in sensing that part of the reason she wants to pursue the matter is that she is simply curious [p. 71], how different is she in moral terms from the reporter Geoffrey McManus?
6. Isabels friendships with her housekeeper Grace and her niece Cat are reliable comforts in her daily life. What qualities does each woman bring to the partnership? What do their conversations reveal about the bonds of female friendship?
7. Isabel raises the question of unequal desire in love when she reflects, “We do not like those who are completely available, who make themselves over to us entirely” [p. 74]. Do you feel this accurately reflects Cats emotional reaction to Jamie? Does this explain Isabels continuing interest in John Liamor?
8. Why is the novel called The Sunday Philosophy Club, if the club seems to be purely notional, never having met? Are readers the members of this club, as if by reading the novel they are entering into Isabels mind, which is constantly engaged in philosophical questioning?
9. Having discovered, by following an impulse of “vulgar curiosity” [p. 111], that Toby is involved with another woman, Isabel wonders whether she should tell Cat about what she saw. Does she arrive at the most reasonable conclusion [pp. 111-12]? Do you agree with her decision?
10. Consider the list of possible suspects: who seems most likely to have murdered Mark—Neil? Johnny Sanderson? Minty Auchterlonie? How reliable is Isabels intuition about these characters?
11. It is Neil who comes to Isabel and tells her of Mark Frasers knowledge of insider trading at his firm [p. 117], thus turning the case into an investigation of a murder. How surprising is the ultimate revelation of how Mark died, and why? How is the crimes solution linked to the theme of truth and honesty?
12. What sexual undertones are revealed in Isabels thoughts about Jamie [pp. 127, 133], her thoughts about the reason for Cats preferring Toby to Jamie, and her helpless attraction to John Liamor? Why are these undercurrents so prevalent, and how are they tied to the ongoing threads of the story?
13. The Edinburgh setting is a crucial element of The Sunday Philosophy Club. It is a city where respectability is highly valued, but, according to Isabel, is also built on hypocrisy: “Respectability was such an effort though, and there were bars and clubs where people might go and behave as they really wanted to behave, but did not dare to do so publicly” [p. 55]. Edinburgh is also associated with philosopher David Hume, who wrote An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, among other books. Is Isabel an exemplary product of Edinburghs Protestant bourgeoisie, or not? What aspects of her life, or her character, place her in the position of outsider [p. 206-7]? Who in the text best represents traditional Scots respectability?
14. How would you characterize Isabels sense of humor? Is she a companionable narrator? If so, what qualities make her sensibility satisfying for a reader?
15. How is The Sunday Philosophy Club not typical of the mystery genre? How central to the reading experience is the mystery of how and why Mark Fraser died? Are other aspects of the plot equally interesting?
16. Readers of The Sunday Philosophy Club, the first novel in a new series, have the pleasure of speculating on how the characters and plots introduced here may be developed in the books that follow. What would you like to see happen in the future? If you have read Smiths No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency novels, how might the Isabel Dalhousie series follow similar lines? How might the very different characters and settings influence the development of this new series?
“Charmingly told. . . . Its graceful prose shines, and Isabels interior monologues—meditations on a variety of moral questions—are bemused, intelligent and entertaining.” —The Seattle Times
The introduction, discussion questions, suggestions for further reading, and author biography that follow are intended to enhance your groups conversation about The Sunday Philosophy Club, the first book in a new series by the marvelous Alexander McCall Smith, creator of The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency.