Sunday, March 20, 2016

Friends, Lovers, Chocolate by Alexander MacCall Smith (A Sunday Philosophy Club mystery)

The eponymous first book in Alexander McCall Smith's Sunday Philosophy Club series humbled me.

The second installment in the series, Friends, Lovers, Chocolate, expanded my musical horizons by introducing me to Many Waters Cannot Quench Love and John Ireland, for which I will be eternally grateful.

More than that, however, once again I found myself happily mentally noshing on the philosophical and ethical conundrums presented to Isabel throughout the book. Although Isabel certainly meddles, this time a a man with a heart transplant asks her for help when he begins to have visions of what he may believe may be his donor's murderer. Questions of cellular memory, the afterlife (and being open-minded enough to grant at least the possibility of an afterlife legitimacy), and even romance arise as Isabel finds herself drawn into her new friend's problem.
Meanwhile, Isabel is forced to confront her feelings for Jamie (at least to some degree) and even indulges her less philosophical and ethical side, deftly preventing from becoming a boring Mary Sue and nicely shading in some depth to her character.

Once again, McCall Smith has given us a Scottish cozy that I enjoyed like a delicious, but messy pastry. At the end, there were some crumbs left, and like so many of Life's philosophical questions, the answer wasn't neat and tidy. But the path to finding it was satisfying as ever. From her niece Kat's shop to a rural bookstore, McCall's talent for drawing a reader into an environment with wholly believable characters makes this another successful installment.

I am beginning to love these books for what they are. Often, I pause reading to Google a word (few books challenge my vocabulary, but both of these installments have), a song, even an instrument (in this case, the contrabasoon). I always learn something and, because the ethical questions presented are interesting (even when they're the "fake" ones Isabel reviews for The Journal of Applied Ethics), just getting to mull those over is a bit like being able to continue to read while doing something else like the dishes.

The books are also a welcome respite when I need a break from many of the darker authors I read such as Denise Mina, Charles Todd, Tana French or Alex Grecian. The are cozies, a sub-genre I admit with chagrin I likely would still be snobbishly dismissing were it not for this series.

I was planning to read these around Christmas time every year, since my husband gifted himself into that tradition, but I already have the third installment and highly doubt I'll be able to wait that long this time. 

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