Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, by Alexander McCall Smith

McCall Smith's Scottish confection has his trademark soft centre
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The Independent Culture

The phenomenal success of McCall Smith has demonstrated that publishers underestimate this market at their peril. The author is notably out of sympathy with the sex, violence and unblushing language of contemporary crime novels, and his Botswana-set Number 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series harks back to a more sedate age.

The author lives in Edinburgh and, to the surprise of his army of readers, recently inaugurated a series set in the city with The Sunday Philosophy Club, a novel featuring a new female detective, the philosopher Isabel Dalhousie. This was a highly diverting work, full of imaginative touches and pithy characterisation - notably of McCall Smith's new heroine. It did not, however, unseat readers' affections for the resourceful Precious Ramotswe, and one wonders if this second outing will win over more fans. It certainly deserves to: she again calls upon her philosophical skills to crack complex mysteries.

Isabel has found herself having ambiguous feelings for a young man, Jamie, who was about to marry her niece, Cat. Her attraction to the attractive Jamie means trouble: Cat is holidaying in Italy, and Isabel has agreed to take over the running of the latter's delicatessen. One of the customers, she discovers, has recently had a heart transplant, and is experiencing phantom memories that he believes belong to someone else. As Isabel investigates, she again finds that her gift for philosophical discourse puts her in the way in some danger.

Will this second Dalhousie outing seduce those impatient for McCall Smith to get back to plump Precious? The appeal is more subtle and allusive than in that earlier series and the pleasures come from a variety of issues: the eternal problems between men and women, the seductive appeal of the Wildean approach to temptation (in this case, whether or not to give in to good-looking Italians or high-calorie confection). This is not a book for those seeking stronger meat, but beguiling enough for readers with a taste for literary chocolate.

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