This month’s book was picked up on a whim, I knew very little about it but was drawn to its philosophical nature and the mystery theme. The heroine of the tale is Isabel Dalhousie, philosopher and amateur mystery solver. She has a reputation for helping people (having started in he middle of a series of novels I had to pick this up as I went along), and soon finds herself assisting in the recovery of a missing work of art.

Despite it being the key element of the plot, this isn’t really a novel about the theft of the painting so much as the moral and ethical implications of the theft, and indeed of those issues that come up in everyday life that ordinary people have to traverse. We certainly won’t all find ourselves having a priceless work of art stolen under our noses, but we may very well be making important decisions about how to raise a child, juggle work and family or when to intervene in others business. What’s great about the McCall Smith’s writing is that it can address these issues seamlessly within the context of the story, it can make you think about what is the right thing to do, or what you would do in the same situation without you realizing it.

The story itself is simple, without being dull or patronising. A famous Poussin work of art has been stolen from a local family’s home in Scotland in an open house. The family had been meaning to donate the piece, but it was stolen before it could be handed over. Duncan seeks Isabel’s help after being told she’s good at this sort of thing, and Isabel somehow finds herself assisting with the insurance and the kidnappers demanding a ransom for the return of the work. Duncan’s two children sit on the fringes and Isabel can’t rule out anyone as the culprit – even the person who sought her help in the first place.

The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds isn’t your usual mystery, it’s more about what is right, than what was taken and why.  It’s about making people better, making the situation better and building relationships. It questions how we raise our children and what we teach and when by showing us Isabel’s own relationship with her son Charlie, her husband Jamie and their friend and help, Grace. Even the simple question of whether their son is old enough to learn maths, and who should make that decision and teach it is important. Isabel thinks and helps and considers everything and she brings you along for the ride. It’s something I really enjoyed about the story but may not be for those who want a plot driven read. This is a thoughtful meander, loosely linked to events but with an easy flow and and an easy read.

I’ll be picking up more Alexander McCall Smith, and especially more Isabel Dalhousie, though next time I probably won’t start in the middle of a series!

Book Conversation points:

Do you like a bit of philosophy in your novels or do you prefer plot driven action?

What did you think of Isabel’s conclusion? Do you think she took the right approach to catching the painting thief?

How do you choose your next read? Have you started a book in the middle of a series?

Next month we’ll be reading Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper, be sure to join us!