Isobel Dalhousie is as far removed from Precious Ramotswe, the owner of The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, as Edinburgh from Botswana. Precious is Botswana’s only female detective. Isobel, on the other hand, is an intellectual who edits a philosophy journal in Edinburgh. A single woman of independent means, she doesn’t have to work for a living. But she is as curious and observant as Precious. And when she sees a young man fall to his death from the balcony during an opera, she doesn’t stand around helplessly. She has to investigate.
The wonder is the young man’s friends and colleagues cooperate with her instead of telling her off for asking them odd questions like a policeman. Are the people of Edinburgh that polite? Ian Rankin portrays a seedier, more dangerous Edinburgh in his Inspector Rebus mysteries. But in the well-heeled circles Isobel moves, even the nastier characters are smooth as silk.
There are no flying bullets, no flashing daggers. There are so few characters to investigate she still has time to check out her beloved niece’s boyfriend whom she suspects to be cheating on her niece.
Except for a bit of suspense towards the end where she gets the fright of her life, thriller lovers will find little to thrill them here. But if you love a good detective story, it’s an absolute gem.
It delivers a one-two punch. As soon as we discover how the young man fell to his death at the opera, there comes the even more surprising ending.
The Sunday Philosophy Club may be a slim little paperback with very little action, but the ending is an absolute corker.
Incidentally, there’s quite a bit of the author himself in this book. He plays the bassoon just like the nice young man Isobel wants her niece to marry — even though she is half in love with him herself. McCall Smith is an amateur bassoonist in the Really Terrible Orchestra, which apparently lives up to its name. He makes gentle fun of the orchestra here.