Friday, January 11, 2008

Hard to Explain

I have developed a real fondness for the writing of Alexander McCall Smith and I can't really explain why. He writes several series and so far I've enjoyed them all. But I can't really say what it is that I find appealing.

His No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series appeals to a lot of folks, because the new books in the series invariably hit the bestseller lists. I resisted sampling it for a long time because it just didn't sound all that interesting. A portly lady detective who lives in Africa? I know nothing about Africa to speak of, so how would I relate to her? I finally caved in when the first volume turned up on the Half-Price shelves in audio format. I've since listened or read the entire series and have thoroughly enjoyed them all.

His Sunday Philosophy Club series I decided I really did not care for at first. I started off by attempting to read the first book and lost interest before the story really took off. I finally got around to listening to one of the others in the series and decided I had been hasty. I've since read or listened to all of that series and been thoroughly entertained.

The Scotland Street series I am especially fond of. The first book was again an audio introduction, about an apartment building in Edinburgh, Scotland, and follows the lives of the inhabitants of the various apartments. This series is somewhat different in that it got its start as a serialized novel in The Scotsman, a newspaper published in Edinburgh. It has short chapters that always leave you hanging and looking forward to the next installment. What will happen to the art gallery owner, eternally misfit Matthew? What wrong man will his young assistant Pat fall for next? What ghastly new terror awaits young Bertie, whose mother Irene persists in raising under the enlightened teachings of Melanie Klein? Will anthropologist Domenica's sojourn among modern day pirates turn out well or badly for her? What adventure lies in store for Cyril, the dog with a gold tooth?

His fourth series I can't speak to as yet, primarily because I've decided the best introduction to his writing is to hear the first volume and I have not found it in audio form. I expect I will like it as well.

The bottom line is that he somehow catches little windows of normal life and normal human relationships. His books may have some drama and pathos, but you can look forward to a happy ending that leaves you wanting to know what happened next. You've known all these people somewhere in your life and know what probably will happen and hope that maybe they will surprise you. And sometimes they do.

It's hard to describe just how much fun these books are. No thrilling chases and life-threatening events here. No lusty romance. Just normal everyday life experienced by normal everyday people. Great fun.


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