The Careful Use of Compliments (Isabel Dalhousie Series #4)

The Careful Use of Compliments (Isabel Dalhousie Series #4)

by Alexander McCall Smith


$14.68 $15.00 Save 2% Current price is $14.68, Original price is $15. You Save 2%. View All Available Formats & Editions
Choose Expedited Shipping at checkout for guaranteed delivery by Monday, September 23



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 the fourth installment of this enchanting, beloved series, Isabel Dalhousie, who is now a mother, returns to investigate an irresistible puzzle in the art world.

Isabel Dalhousie—the nosiest and most sympathetic philosopher you are likely to meet—now has a son, Charlie, whose doting father Jamie has an intriguing idea to pose to Isabel: marriage. But Isabel wonders if Jamie is too young to be serious? And how would Cat respond? On top of these matters, the ambitious Professor Dove has seized Isabel's position as editor of the Review of Applied Ethics. However, nothing it seems can diminish Isabel's innate curiosity. And when she recognizes that two paintings attributed to a deceased artist have simultaneously appeared on the market, she can't help but think that they're forgeries. So Isabel begins an investigation and soon finds herself diverted from her musings about parenthood and onto a path of inquiry into the soul of an artist.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781400077120
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 08/26/2008
Series: Isabel Dalhousie Series , #4
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 151,537
Product dimensions: 5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, and the 44 Scotland Street series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with


Edinburgh, Scotland

Date of Birth:

August 24, 1948

Place of Birth:


Read an Excerpt

Chapter OneTake one hundred people,” said Isabel.Jamie nodded. “One hundred.”“Now, out of those one hundred,” Isabel continued, “how many will mean well?”It was typical of the sort of trying question Isabel asked herself, in the way in which we sometimes ask ourselves questions that admit of no definitive answer. She was an optimist when it came to humankind, unfashionably so, and so she thought the answer was ninety-eight, possibly even ninety-nine. Jamie, the realist, after a few moments’ thought, said eighty.But this was not a question which could be disposed of so easily; it raised in its wake other, more troubling questions. Were those one or two people the way they were because of the throw of the genetic dice—a matter of patterns and repeats deep in the chemistry of their DNA—or was it something that went wrong for them a long time ago, in some dark room of childhood, and stayed wrong? Of course there was quite another possibility: they chose. She was sitting in a delicatessen when she remembered this conversation with Jamie. Now, from that convenient vantage point, she looked out of the window—that man who was crossing the road right then, for example; the one with the thin mouth, the impatient manner, and the buttoned collar, was perhaps one of that tiny minority of the malevolent. There was something about him, she felt, that made one uneasy; something in his eyes which suggested ruthlessness, a man who would not wait for others, who did not care, who would suffer from road rage even while walking . . . She smiled at the thought. But there was certainly something unsettling in his demeanour, a hint of poisoned sexuality about him, she felt; a whiff of cruelty, something not quite right.She looked away; one did not want such a person to see one staring; nor, she reminded herself, did she want to catch herself engaging in such idle speculation. Imagining things about perfect strangers might seem a harmless enough pursuit, but it could lead to all sorts of ridiculous fantasies and fears. And Isabel was aware that of all her manifold failings, thinking too much about things was one of the most egregious.Of course a delicatessen in Edinburgh was not the most obvious place to entertain such thoughts on the nature of good and evil, but Isabel was a philosopher and knew full well that philosophical speculation came upon one in the strangest places and at the strangest times. The delicatessen was owned by her niece, Cat, and in addition to selling the usual things that such shops sold—the sun-dried tomatoes and mozzarella cheese, the fresh anchovy fillets and the small bars of Austrian marzipan—this delicatessen served coffee at the three or four small marble-topped tables that Cat had found on a trip to the Upper Loire valley and that she had carted back to Scotland in a hired self-drive van.Isabel was sitting at one of these tables, a freshly made cappuccino before her, a copy of that morning’s Scotsman newspaper open at the crossword page. Her coffee had been made by Cat’s assistant, Eddie, a shy young man to whom something terrible and unexplained had happened some time ago and who was still awkward in his dealings with Isabel and with others. Eddie had gained in confidence recently, especially since he had taken up with a young Australian woman who had taken a job for a few months in the delicatessen, but he still blushed unexpectedly and would end a conversation with a murmur and a turning away of the head.“You’re by yourself,” said Eddie, as he brought Isabel’s coffee to her table. “Where’s the . . .” He trailed off.Isabel smiled at him encouragingly. “The baby? He’s called Charlie, by the way.”Eddie nodded, glancing in the direction of Cat’s office at the back of the delicatessen. “Yes, of course, Charlie. How old is he now?”“Three months. More or less exactly.”Eddie absorbed this information. “So he can’t say anything yet?”Isabel began to smile, but stopped herself; Eddie could be easily discouraged. “They don’t say anything until they’re quite a bit older, Eddie. A year or so. Then they never stop. He gurgles, though. A strange sound that means I’m perfectly happy with the world. Or that’s the way I understand it.”“I’d like to see him sometime,” said Eddie vaguely. “But I think that . . .” He left the sentence unfinished, yet Isabel knew what he meant.“Yes,” she said, glancing in the direction of Cat’s door. “Well, that is a bit complicated, as you probably know.”Eddie moved away. A customer had entered the shop and was peering at the counter display of antipasti; he needed to return to his duties.Isabel sighed. She could have brought Charlie with her, but she had decided against it, leaving him instead at the house with her housekeeper, Grace. She often brought him to Bruntsfield, wheeling him, a wrapped-up cocoon, in his baby buggy, negotiating the edge of the pavement with care, proud in the way of a new mother, almost surprised that here she was, Isabel Dalhousie, with her own child, her son. But on these occasions she did not go into Cat’s delicatessen, because she knew that Cat was still uncomfortable about Charlie.Cat had forgiven Isabel for Jamie. When it had first become apparent that Isabel was having an affair with him, Cat had been incredulous: “Him? My ex-boyfriend? You?” Surprise had been followed by anger, expressed in breathless staccato: “I’m sorry. I can’t. I just can’t get used to it. The idea.”There had been acceptance, later, and reconciliation, but by that stage Isabel had announced her pregnancy and Cat had retreated in a mixture of resentment and embarrassment.“You disapprove,” said Isabel. “Obviously.”Cat had looked at her with an expression that Isabel found impossible to interpret.“I know he was your boyfriend,” Isabel continued. “But you did get rid of him. And I didn’t set out to become pregnant. Believe me, I didn’t. But now that I am, well, why shouldn’t I have a child?”Cat said nothing, and Isabel realised that what she was witnessing was pure envy; unspoken, inexpressible. Envy makes us hate what we ourselves want, she reminded herself. We hate it because we can’t have it.By the time that Charlie arrived, tumbling—or so it felt to Isabel—into the world under the bright lights of the Royal Infirmary, Cat was talking to Isabel again. But she did not show much warmth towards Charlie; she did not offer to hold him or to kiss him, although he was her cousin. Isabel was hurt by this, but decided that the best thing to do was not to flaunt Charlie before her niece, but allow her to come round in her own time.“You can’t carry on disliking a baby for long,” said Grace, who, imbued with folk wisdom, was often right about these things. “Babies have a way of dealing with indifference. Give Cat time.”Time. She looked at her watch. She had put Charlie down for his nap almost two hours ago and he would be waking up shortly. He would want feeding then, and although Grace could cope with that, Isabel liked to do it herself. She had stopped breast-feeding him only a few days after his birth, which had made her feel bad, but the discomfort had been too great and she had found herself dreading the experience. That was not a way to bond with one’s child, she thought; babies can pick up the physical tension in the mother, the drawing back from contact. So she had switched to a baby formula.Isabel would not leave the delicatessen without exchanging a few words with Cat, no matter how strained relations might be. Now she rose from her table and made her way to the half-open door to the office. Eddie, standing at the counter, glanced briefly in her direction and then looked away again.“Are you busy?”Cat had a brochure in front of her, her pen poised above what looked like a picture of a jar of honey.“Do people buy lots of honey?” Isabel asked. It was a banal question—of course people bought honey—but she needed something to break the ice.Cat nodded. “They do,” she said, distantly. “Do you want some? I’ve got a sample somewhere here. They sent me a jar of heather honey from the Borders.”“Grace would,” said Isabel. “She eats a lot of honey.”There was a silence. Cat stared at the photograph of the jar of honey. Isabel drew in her breath; this could not be allowed to go on. Cat might come round in the end—and Isabel knew that she would—but it could take months; months of tension and silences.“Look, Cat,” she said, “I don’t think that we should let this go on much longer. You’re freezing me out, you know.”Cat continued to stare fixedly at the honey. “I don’t know what you mean,” she said.“But you do,” said Isabel. “Of course you know what I mean. And all that I’m saying is that it’s ridiculous. You have to forgive me. You have to forgive me for having Charlie. For Jamie. For everything.”She was not sure why she should be asking her niece’s forgiveness, but she was. When it came to forgiveness, of course, it did not matter whether somebody was wronged or not— what counted was whether they felt wronged. That was quite different.“I don’t have to forgive you,” said Cat. “You haven’t done anything wrong, have you? All you’ve done is have a baby. By my . . .” She trailed off.Isabel was astonished. “By your what?” she asked. “Your boyfriend? Is that what you’re saying?”Cat rose to her feet. “Let’s not fight,” she said flatly. “Let’s just forget it.”

Reading Group Guide

“Delightful. . . . McCall Smith’s talent for dialog is matched only by his gift for characterization.”
Chicago Tribune

The introduction, questions, and suggestions for further reading that follow are intended to enhance your group’s discussion about The Careful Use of Compliments, the latest episode in the adventures of Isabel Dalhousie, sometime sleuth and editor of the Review of Applied Ethics.

1. The novel opens with Isabel and Jamie discussing a philosophical question: out of one hundred people, how many mean well [p. 3]? Isabel is more optimistic about human nature than Jamie is. Is there a character in this story who does not mean well? Whose view of the relative goodness of human nature is more correct—Jamie’s or Isabel’s?

2. Now that Isabel’s status has changed from that of solitary spinster to that of single mother, she “feels more sensitive to the presence of Grace in the household. In what ways does Grace’s position in Isabel’s life become more complicated now that she helps out with Charlie, and now that Jamie often stays the night?

3. Just after Jamie’s proposal of marriage [pp. 27–28], Isabel thinks to herself that the burden of the philosopher was that “one knew what one had to do, but it was so often the opposite of what one really wanted to do” [p. 29]. What she has done is suggested to Jamie that it’s better to wait. Why, if this is not what she wants, does she suggest it?
Is she being overly cautious, and if so, why?

4. At the auction gallery, Jamie asks Isabel, “Just how well-off are you?” She tells him quietly that she has “eleven million pounds. . . . Depending on the value of the dollar” [pp. 62–63]. How might this admission change Jamie’s feelings about his relationship to Isabel and Charlie? Is he right to ask, and is she right to tell him? Why is her money such a sensitive issue?

5. When in a state of mental conflict, Isabel thinks of Plato’s Phaedrus: “There were two horses in the soul . . . the one, unruly, governed by passions, pulling in the direction of self-indulgence; the other, restrained, dutiful, governed by a sense of shame” [p. 33]. Does it seem true that a person must often choose between these two impulses? Does Isabel’s struggle between the two make the decisions we make in everyday life seem more consequential, more ethical?

6. A brief conversation with Grace indicates how Isabel worries about her future with Charlie. Grace says, “All boys like their mothers,” to which Isabel answers, “Some mothers suffocate their sons, emotionally” [p. 32]. Isabel’s thoughts about Charlie’s future are affected by her visit to the wife and child of the painter Andrew McInnes [pp. 150-53], and by her visit to Walter Buie and his mother [pp. 220-28]. What kind of a mother is Isabel likely to be, even if she has to raise Charlie by herself?

7. Thinking about fictional characters like Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina, Isabel thinks to herself, “She had no author, though. Isabel was real” [p. 131]. Smith has a bit of fun here with the effect of reality he is creating in his fiction; in fact he uses actual Edinburgh streets and auction galleries, actual Scottish painters, and so on, in his stories. What aspects of the Isabel Dalhousie novels make them seem particularly “real”?

8. Isabel is a person who strives to be perfect in her ethical conduct. Despite the power her inherited wealth might give her, “she would not depart from the code she had set for herself. It was hard, very hard sometimes . . . [p. 55]. Given that she resolves the problem of her position at the Review of Applied Ethics by buying the journal, does she meet her own standard in this regard? In doing so, she maintains control of the journal and her own independence.
Is it the perfect solution?

9. Cat’s jealousy is a serious problem for Isabel. Why is Cat jealous? Is it likely that she really wants Jamie back? Is Cat, as Isabel worries, “fast,”or merely “confused” [pp. 145–46]? Does it seem possible that Jamie would be vulnerable to loving Cat again [p. 86]?

*Spoiler Alert: Do not read past this point unless you want to find out about the mystery.

10. When she finally meets Andrew McInnes, Isabel tells him of her visit to his wife and son [pp. 150–53]. McInnes believes that the child was fathered by his wife’s ex-lover, but Isabel assures him that the boy looks just like him [p. 241]. Does Isabel do right in speaking to him about such an intimate matter, and to suggest that he has a duty to go and see his wife and son? What motivates her to do so?

11. When she learns from the intimidating Mrs. Buie that Andrew McInnes is still living, Isabel says, “Disappearing in the first place was rather foolish” [p. 228]. McInnes’s supposed suicide and reappearance under a false identity do seem like very odd behavior. Is it likely that a person would do such a thing? What does he gain by it; what does he lose?

12. The uncertainty of Isabel and Jamie’s love affair is a source of tension throughout the novel. Isabel, so direct about most things, thinks often about her love for Jamie but doesn’t speak these thoughts to him [pp. 83, 158]. What does the final scene, with Isabel’s murmured rhyme about the tattoed man [p. 247], suggest about possible further developments?

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See All Customer Reviews

The Careful Use of Compliments (Isabel Dalhousie Series #4) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 29 reviews.
Yukikon on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed following what she thought about things happening to Isabel. Sometimes I dentified with her, others not. Her observation of the world made me think about myself and things surrounding me.
edoc on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
These are a very quaint series of books. At first had to try and get past the fact that the main character is only in her early 40s despite the fact that she sometimes sounds more middle aged.
veronicab on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book a great deal. The characters were well developed. The visual imagery that the author used made you feel as though you were actually present. A very quick, enjoyable read. I look forward to reading the rest in this series!
drsyko on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is yet another score for McCall Smith. Smith is that rare male author who obviously likes women and writes them extremely well. Isabel Dalhousie is a fully realized, complicated female character who is unique. She is kind, smart, highly moral, and in love with a much younger man who used to be her neice's boyfriend. Oh, and she just had his baby. In this outing Isabel solves the mystery of a painting that may or may not be a fake, tries to fix her relationship with her neice, engages in a bit of intrigue to keep her job, and contemplates what it is to love her boyfriend and her son. The Isabel Dalhousie series of books are all thoughtful, gentle, well-written, and very understanding of the human condition. Smith has a wholy unique voice that is both comforting and thought provoking. These novels, much like his other popular series, are almost entirely character driven and this book is no exception. There is some plot, but it is mostly used to drive the relationships forward and offer insights into the characters and their motivations. In the wrong hands, this kind of writing can be boring and pretentious. But Smith knows exactly what he's doing and because he is such a keen observer of human nature and has such a beautiful way with words his novels are really mini works of art. This book, and all of his other books, are well worth reading.
mbmackay on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Formulaic? Yes. Predictable? Yes. A good read? Absolutely! Read April 2010.
NewsieQ on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Isabel Dalhousie is a singular heroine ... and it's a joy to get inside her head. With a PhD in philosophy and a finely tuned sense of what's right and wrong, her musings provide many a meditation for readers. But it would be erroneous to believe that these lovely novels are anything but great storytelling. It's just that the stories generally revolve around small things. In The Careful Use of Compliments, Isabel attends an auction at which she plans to bid on a painting by the dead artist Andrew McInnes -- she already owns one of his painting. But at the last minute, Isabel stops bidding. Not that money is a worry -- she has inherited wealth, more money than she could spend in several lifetimes. No, she has an uneasy feeling about it. When another painting by the same author comes up for sale, she's pretty sure both are forgeries. What to do? It's a long, hard slog for her to figure out what she should do about with her suspicions. After all, she's the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics and has spent many hours pondering moral questions. When she becomes the victim of two conniving fellow-philosophers, Professors Lettuce and Dove, and loses her position as editor, she has some further thinking about how to proceed. File a lawsuit for wrongful termination? Let it pass? Or get sweet revenge somehow? I love this series ... and The Careful Use of Compliments .didn't disappoint. Again, I'm amazed at how Mr. Smith manages to get into the heads of his women characters. Strongly recommended01/16/2010
maureen61 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A light hearted tale of a femal philosopher who uses her moral delimmas to solves mysteries. She is a wealthy, young, single mother who enjoys her Scottish homeland.
richardderus on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the fourth Isabel Dalhousie novel, as I am pleased to note Pantheon is now marketing them, not mysteries. Now I wonder why my library still keeps them in the mysteries...?It's a lovely, warm way to spend a frustrating day's end, reading a well-written book about quiet, domestic things, and feeling thereby that one has checked in on the doings of some rather remote, but nonetheless cherished, friends. That's the charm of the Isabel Dalhousie novels for me. It's just smooth sailing such as this that gets comparatively little respect, critical or commercial; how glad I am that Precious Ramotswe has given McCall Smith the megaphone that brought these unfashionably serene books to a broad, general market.And how delightedly I received this particular book! The previous entry in the series wasn't very good at all, seeming to me to have been composed on a laptop perched on the author's knee while traveling to signings, clunked onto the never-the-right-height hotel desk for a fast few hundred before passing out, and edited by fax while jouncing over unpaved roads in Botswana. While I'm not quite ready to forget that readerly disappointment, I'm a long way from unhappy after this evening's pleasures.Isabel does several interesting things in this book, and does them with verve. I think it was this sense of verve that I missed in book three, "The Right Attitude to Rain."Cat, Isabel's niece, appears again in this book, though she isn't as central a character...this is but one example of the evolution of the series, that natural fading in and out of some characters. It's just like life. Only takes less time. Recommended, no reservations, for anyone needing a quiet place to relax and have a good conversation with good people.
debnance on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I had pretty much given up on Smith¿s Isabel Dalhousie books. Then I ran across some encouraging words about this latest Isabel Dalhousie book and I sought it out. I¿m glad I did. Smith gives Isabel a little bite in this installment of the series, a bite she (in my vho) needed; Isabel had always felt like a bit of a namby-pamby, a person observing life, not living it. Now Smith has tossed her smack dab into life where she can no longer sit on the sidelines and bemusedly watch other people make horrible mistakes in their lives.
isabelx on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure how Isabel Dalhousie manages to become more irritating with every book, but somehow she manages it.In this book she is the most unrealistic new mother ever - completely unfrazzled and apparently getting plenty of sleep.
bookheaven on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Good continuance of Isabel's story. I always enjoy Mr. McCall's writing.
HikerWeaver on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I particularly like this philosophical series by Alexander McCall Smith. Isabel Dalhousie (main character, philosopher) muses on moral questions while going about her life editing the Review of Applied Ethics, engaging in conversation, and observing her own and others behavior. Other authors who have engaged me in this way are Dorothy Gilman with her Mrs. Pollifax series and Amanda Cross (aka Carol Heilbrun) with her Kate Fansler series. All 3 authors imbue their main characters with inquisitive minds and the ability to make keen observations.
bibliophile26 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the third (or 4th?) book about Isabel Dalhousie, 40ish Scottish editor of an ethics journal. Everytime I read one of these books, all I think is the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series is so much better. Anyway, the mystery of forged works of art was rather boring and I found some of Isabel's decisions quite unethical. The only part of the book I enjoyed was the tension between Isabel and her niece, Cat, over Isabel's current love and her baby's daddy, Jamie, who happens to be Cat's ex-boyfriend.
knittingfreak on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the latest in the Sunday Philosophy Club series by Alexander McCall Smith. The author is best known for his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, which is good. But, if you haven't yet read anything else by this author, you are in for a treat. I look forward to each new book in this series with anticipation. It is classified as a mystery, but the mystery is really secondary. What stands out is the language, setting, and the main character, Isabel Dalhousie. In fact, I find myself wanting to read this book aloud because the author's descriptions are so vivid. I have never been to Scotland, but I will go some day, and these books just whet my appetite. Isabel Dalhousie is a moral philosopher and the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics. McCall Smith has a wonderfully dry wit that comes through in all his novels. Isabel is a very well-rounded character, and the reader gets to know her intimately through her interior monologues. She thinks about even the smallest things that happen during her day. She debates with herself the morality of inaction versus taking specific action. But, where some characters may come across as judgmental or "preachy", Isabel does neither. She is very human and readily admits her faults. At heart, she is an optimist. This book and all the rest of the books in this series are a pleasure to read.
Doondeck on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A continuation of Isabel's interesting life. These characters are very real and appealing, despite the fact that most people do not take Isabel's moral high ground.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Snoflinga More than 1 year ago
I love this series - as I love all of McCall Smith's books - and am working my way through it. I really enjoyed this installment too, with one huge exception which bothered me from the very beginning. It may not bother someone who is not reading the rest of the series, but the significant jump and 'lost time' between the end of the last book, when Isabel had just discovered her pregnancy, to the beginning of this one, where she is happily pushing a pram with a 3 month old son, irked me a great deal. So much of the series revolves around her relationship with Jamie and how they relate to each other, and a pregnancy and child would change that in such a major, major way; and yet all that was just left out of the picture. I felt incomplete. Like a whole book had been entirely left out and I was struggling to pick up the pieces. Will Jamie be a good father? Well WHO KNOWS? Was he buying pickles and ice cream 6 months ago? Did he rub her back during contractions? I don't know, because you left that part out!!! Bah, it's silly I know, but it drove me batty. ANYWAY... the book is very like the others in style, which is an excellent thing! A nicely constructed mystery is presented, worked through in parts, and an ending with perhaps a bit of surprise in it is tied up at the end. Very Christie-like. I adore the characters, I love the descriptions of Edinburgh and Jura and the details of relationships between people. Mr McCall Smith is very gifted in noting those little details of daily life we don't always recognize and then when we read them we think yes! I think that too! It's a great read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
swmirsky More than 1 year ago
A "mystery" of a somewhat unusual sort, this one demonstrates that you don't need murder and mayhem to keep the "detective" in the game. Isabel Dalhousie is a Scottish lady in her early forties with a tidy inheritance and no need to work for a living, but does anyway as editor of a philosophy review with a smallish circulation. She doesn't earn much but doesn't need to, while it enables her to pursue her true passion: moral philosophy. How to live a good life and what that entails. But Ms. Dalhousie, with a wide circle of friends, and family members, doesn't stand apart from the world she is endlessly contemplating. As the book opens we learn Isabel's a recent mother, albeit unwed, though neither she nor her circle think there's anything wrong with that. Her lover, a musician, is a good deal younger than she and the former paramour of her niece. Greatly attached to his new son by Isabel, he is quite prepared to make an "honest woman" of his child's mother and loves Isabel, though with a level of passion more suited to a thoughtful and sensitive artiste than an ardent youth. But Isabel is having none of it . . . for now anyway. On the other hand their relationship has brought its own complications since the boyfriend's former lover, Cat, Isabel's headstrong niece, resents her aunt's "acquisition" of her cast-off lover. Into this complex of entanglements comes a mystery of sorts when Isabel, the ever thoughtful and self-doubting philosophical thinker, decides to buy a newly discovered painting by a deceased Scottish artist. The painting appears genuine except for some small oddities though Isabel is outbid at auction by an unknown person who departs hastily before she can identify him. Resolved to make the best of her loss, Isabel moves on with her life and is soon embroiled in the political shenanigans of academia. Trying to sort out her own feelings and choices under the pressure of the professoriate, Isabel is abruptly surprised to learn certain new facts about the mysterious painting. Despite the urgings of her young lover to stay out of others' affairs, the philosophically incautious Isabel can't resist the bait of the mysterious painting and the coincidences that keep coming up concerning it, plunging into a fray consisting, in equal measure, of certain mysterious persons and a long dead painter whose future seemed bright when he suddenly disappeared off the Scottish coast in what might have been an accident, suicide . . . or something worse. The real mystery is less the resolution of the painter's strange disappearance than how Isabel will resolve her many social entanglements without causing more harm than good. Along the way, we're treated to a lovingly traced Scottish countryside and it's rugged western coast along with the modern Euro-obsession with one's place in society via an almost obsessive concern for one's carbon footprint. Miss Dalhousie is an intriguing detective but she's no Philip Marlow nor even a Miss Marple. On the other hand, we're long overdue for the philosopher qua detective and Smith has done it with skill and verve. The well-known 20th century Cambridge philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was famously partial to mysteries when he wasn't contemplating more weighty matters. He'd have liked Dalhousie had he lived long enough to read about her. Stuart W. Mirsky, author of The King of Vinland's Saga