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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gentle and thought-provoking
I've only recently sampled this McCall Smith series having found the Number 1 Ladies Detective Series too twee for my tastes. The heroine of the Philosophy Club series, Isabel Dalhousie, is a charming and interesting character who engages the reader to care about what happens in her life. The story-lines have several strands: her personal life; her amateur sleuthing;...
Published on 9 July 2008 by Bluebell

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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A gentle read, perfect for rainy Sunday afternoons
The Sunday Philosophy Club is the beginning of a new series featuring the middle-aged and single Isabel Dalhousie. I'm going to confess right from the start that I did not take to Isabel as a character. In part, this is because I found that she rather stretched belief. She's an independently wealthy, middle-aged woman (who married the love of her life, only to be left by...
Published on 6 Jun 2007 by I Read, Therefore I Blog


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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gentle and thought-provoking, 9 July 2008
By 
Bluebell (UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 100 REVIEWER)   
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I've only recently sampled this McCall Smith series having found the Number 1 Ladies Detective Series too twee for my tastes. The heroine of the Philosophy Club series, Isabel Dalhousie, is a charming and interesting character who engages the reader to care about what happens in her life. The story-lines have several strands: her personal life; her amateur sleuthing; and her occupation as an editor of a philosophy journal. This last theme allows the author to explore aspects of moral philosophy and ethics (his own professional background). In the past I've tended to find writings about philosophy tedious, but the way the author incorporates philosophical issues into the fabric of these stories makes the ideas come alive. For those of us who know Edinburgh, reading about all the familiar streets and shops gives added pleasure. This is not a book based on realistic crime detection, such as Ian Rankin's Rebus series: it's more in the Simon Brett/ Agatha Christie camp.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A gentle read, perfect for rainy Sunday afternoons, 6 Jun 2007
The Sunday Philosophy Club is the beginning of a new series featuring the middle-aged and single Isabel Dalhousie. I'm going to confess right from the start that I did not take to Isabel as a character. In part, this is because I found that she rather stretched belief. She's an independently wealthy, middle-aged woman (who married the love of her life, only to be left by him) who has retained her looks but who isn't pursuing a relationship and who also happens to be a philosopher. I don't doubt that there are women like this in real life, but it is an awful lot to take in in what's actually quite a short book (coming in at just under 300 pages) and I did think that McCall Smith leveraged in the backstory with her lover John Liamor a little too obviously. Given that this is to be a series, I think that some of the backstory could have been alluded to so as to give the reader the idea that there's more to come before being drawn out in later novels. As it is, I'm not sure that there's enough left to discover about Isabel that would keep me reading.

It's a shame that I didn't take to Isabel given that the book is really about her and her thoughts on modern day society. In fact, I thought that the summary on the back of the book was a little misleading because whilst the novel does begin with a death (which I thought was conveyed in a really believable manner, complete with a lovely touch about how the victim's shirt has risen up as he falls to expose his midrift), Isabel's investigations are really almost an afterthought - a thin skeleton on which to hang the characterisation.

McCall Smith focuses the bulk of the book's attention on Isabel's relationship with Jamie (a young man who previously went out with her niece and who she has hopes will become a nephew-in-law) and with Cat, her niece who is currently dating an unsuitable man called Toby. Again, neither Jamie or Cat convinced me as characters as both are essentially sounding boards for different aspects of Isabel's personality: Jamie represents a sounding board for her ideas on what is desirable in a man (given that she admits to having an attraction to him) and Cat a sounding board for the importance on settling down with the right man. Toby barely gets a look in beyond the dismissed suitor and in fact, the way that McCall Smith dispatches him via the highly contrived discovery of infidelity was a little disappointing. In addition, whilst I could understand the basis of Cat's relationship with Isabel, I couldn't quite buy into why Jamie would want to spend so much time with her - the attraction aspect on his part is not wholly convincing and by offering a rationale his wish to stay close in some way to Cat (given that he hopes for a second chance) makes him seem a little pathetic and weak.

I did however enjoy the relationship (platonic) between Isabel and her housekeeper Grace. Grace with her superstitions and ability to nail a character felt very real to me and whilst she's relegated to a role of reinforcing Isabel's confidence and listening to those problems she can't share with Jamie or Cat there's a lot of scope for development there.

I do want to say that whilst I found this book disappointing, it is nevertheless a pleasant read and I found the segments looking at issues of moral philosophy to be interesting and easily understandable (albeit it again, sometimes leveraged into the story) and it's good to see a writer who is not afraid to run concepts and ideas by his readers just to make them think about what they would do or how they feel about something. There is at the same time though, a curiously old-fashioned feel to this book - more one for Agatha Christie fans I think than for fans of modern thriller writers (which are more urgently plot driven affairs). Oh - and you won't see any meetings of the titular Club - it's more a teasing device to pique your interest.
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37 of 40 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Isabel isn't Precious!, 6 Oct 2004
By A Customer
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Mma Ramotswe was always going to be a hard act to follow and, wisely, Alexander McCall Smith has set his new series as far away from Botwana as possible. I anticipated that his new heroine would share some of Precious Ramotswe's intuitive understanding of human nature. However, Isabel Dalhousie is an academic - a philosopher, much give to musing over the dicta of Hume, Kant et al. Quite hard for the ordinary reader to relate to. She's a very privileged woman, even by the standards of Morningside (the 'posh' part of Edinburgh) where ladies who lunch lurk behind the net curtains and no-one would be seen dead sending their kids to a state school! The world of academe, the law and high finance is a far cry from the dusty streets of Gaborone - so why did this Scots reviewer feel so much less at home in the Scottish capital?
The characters seem to me to lack warmth (mind you, so does Edinburgh) and his ear for dialogue seems to have deserted the author, even in Isabel's exchanges with her beloved niece, Cat. Even in Edinburgh, surely they don't use the impersonal 'one' all the time! There is quite a lot of interior monologue with the heroine mulling over the situation and thinking about her past (not all past) love of a husband long gone to California. The one character who, I thought, had the potential for development and more humorous treatment, is Grace, Isabel's housekeeper, devoted to her employer and to Cat, but never mincing words or shrinking from expressing an opinion - also a severe critic of Edinburgh's public transport!

In short, I was disappointed with this novel because I couldn't relate to the characters, nor could I get excited by the plot which wended a rather wearisome way through the novel and was occasionally lost sight of completely while Isabel interfered with her niece's love life.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars edinburgh is the star, 4 Jan 2009
I was "warned off" this series by a friend who said it was dire compared to the Scotland Street books - decided to give it a try, and really enjoyed the first novel.

I don't think it matters whether Isabel is true to life - I personally don't know any single women philosophers with daily housekeepers! - novels are supposed to be at least partly an escapre from our daily round, and I love the fact that Isabel's affluence leaves her free to wander about thinking her thoughts and moving through Edinburgh society.

The book is not as laugh out loud amusing as 44 Scotland Street and its successors, but it still kept me turning the pages - I was honestly not too bothered about the whodunit aspect, what I enjoyed was the evocation of Edinburgh life coupled with the consideration of moral questions. There are very few writers who raise these issues, especially in "light" novels, and I felt that Mr McCall Smith managed to introduce them in a very entertaining and unfusty way.

The character I found least convincing was Cat - but maybe that's just because I don't think i would like her very much if she existed. I loved Jamie - and I have to admit that I am a middle-aged woman! I don't think he is wet, and I don't think it's unbelievable that he would wish to socialise with an older woman, with our without any sexual undertones.

I don't find Mr McCall Smith's dialogue very "realistic" in either this or the Scotland Street books - but that's part of the attraction for me, I think he writes beautifully and I only wish people would talk as he writes; I don't want to read writing reflecting the appalling way that most of us speak!

I've just started Friends, Lovers Chocolate, and so far it's even better.

I think you either love this writer or you don't. I do.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Same But Different?, 29 July 2007
By 
S. Loddick - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
I bought this book as a fan of McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series of novels, as no doubt many others did. Anyone expecting a rehash of No. 1, but with a Scottish location, will be disappointed, And whilst the main character, Isabel, is not as engaging as her No. 1 counterpart, she has grown on me.

Botswana is swapped for Scotland, Gabarone for Edinburgh. The detective plot allows us to explore the thoughts, feelings and motivations of Isabel in much the same way as we have grown to know Precious. It is more important to finish this book with a better understanding of people, than to have "solved" the crime ahead of Isabel.

There is a place for Isabel alongside Precious in my heart, and I will be following her adventures.
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Much waffle, little plot, 20 April 2006
I have read most of the author's earlier novels set in Botswana, which were enjoyable and original at first, but became rather formulaic as the series went on. No doubt this is due to the sheer volume of work he seems to have churned out over the last couple of years.

In the first of this new series set in Edinburgh, Alexander McCall Smith has produced more of the same. Basically all he has done in the Sunday Philosophy Club is substituted a 'traditionally built' Botswanan woman and her side kick with a monied upper class Scot and her side kick. But otherwise, the lengthy meditations on morality and tradition are much the same as in all his previous offerings.

The plot is virtually non-existent, and the intervening padding dominates. I personally found these contemplations dull and rather patronising, and so skimmed over them.

Nevertheless, it is an easy read if you have nothing better to do. But if you are after an engaging detective story, look elsewhere.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Give me back those minutes!!!, 3 Oct 2012
By 
I picked this up from a swapping library at a campsite in rural Portugal where reading, walking and taking the odd tipple in glorious sunshine are the main delights. I was attracted by the title and the fact that I had heard the name of a story which had been written by the same author and understood it to be well thought of. So far, so good.

Once I began to read there seemed to be a reasonably substantial question to be answered and I sat back and waited to be entertained as the author led me along an interesting, involving path to a devilishly well crafted conclusion via interaction with lovable and not-so-lovable, intriguing characters. Oh dear!

I managed to ignore the fact that I was patronised time and time again by boringly pretentious references to philosophy (I figured I had asked for that, given the title) but my search for entertainment was almost entirely in vain. I didn't, unlike some reviewers, dislike Isabel so much as feel that the reasons given to justify her rather irrational need to 'solve the crime' were thinner than anorexic tissue paper. Then, she goes to the house of her first suspect and asks not one single penetrating question.

I found the whole concept of ignoring the fact that an organisation known generally as 'The Police' would have a slight interest in the case, and replacing them with a woman who stumbles around bumping in to characters who may or may not have anything to do with it, whilst having absolutely no structure whatsoever to her 'investigation' rather bizarre.

To be honest, I would have much preferred it if she had found out that Jamie was some kind of secret perve with a dungeon and they had been embarrasingly caught going at it like the devil when her friends from the club turned up. I'm sorry, but thoughts like that stray into a chaps head when faced with something as bland and meaningless as The Sunday Philosophy Club.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars smell auld reekie in the print!, 13 Nov 2008
I loved this book, i think Alexander McCall Smith is at his best describing petite-bourgeois Edinburgh folk; I've lived there, met and enjoyed these people and places - how did he know! Not to be missed, it seems a lightweight read but can be absorbed at a deeper level. would make a good gift book.
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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An Edinburgh mystery, 16 Sep 2004
By 
L O'connor (richmond, surrey United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
Isasbel Dalhousie is a refined middle-aged lady philosopher who lives an elegant and tasteful life in Edinburgh. When she is at a concert, a young man falls to his death from the balcony above her. Isabel suspects that his death may not have been an accident or suicide, but murder, and she sets out to try and prove it. She is assisted by Jamie, her niece Cat's ex-boyfriend. Cat has got a new boyfriend, a gorgeous hunk called Toby. Isabel cannot see the appeal of hunks, which tells you all you need to know about Isabel. This is a mildly entertaining story, though I did not find the mystery particularly exciting, and I thought the denoument was a bit feeble. I don't think McCall Smith is really cut out for writing about murders, I think he is more at home with the cheerful ladies at the No.1 detective agency in Botswana, and their less dramatic problems. The most interesting character in this book is Isabel's housekeeper Grace, and we don't see enough of her. Isabel is not nearly as engaging a character as Mma Ramotswe, and this book lacks the charm of the Botswana series.
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48 of 55 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a super start, 12 Nov 2004
By 
Sandford "Sandy" (Kent, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
Whereas McCall's delightful character, Precious Ramotswe, views the world in a rather simplistic, "black-and-white" way, in "The Sunday Philosophy Club we are presented with Miss Dalhousie, whose perspective on the world is far more intellectual, governed by her enthusiasm for philosophy, and as the editor of an erudite publication entitled, "Journal of Applied Ethics". She sees plenty of moral dilemmas around her, very much a consequence of her philosophical approach to life.
She is both fascinated and concerned with those people she meets in her daily life. A sub-plot involving her niece draws out the empathy she feels towards others. In the main plot, as a chance observer to a violent death, this Scots lady finds herself being drawn by default rather than design into detective work. She is determined to get to the bottom of this awful tragedy, which is resolved quite beautifully in the final few pages.
This is not the ending that the reader would expect if Precious were in charge of this case, which is just as well if McCall wants us to view them as different characters, and not in competition. They are indeed quite different, and McCall succeeds admirably in beginning to present us with a very believable and likeable person in Miss Dalhousie. He seems to want the reader to remain guessing about much of her personality, giving just enough to make her appear "solid" and real, yet also tantalising about other aspects of her personality. At times she seems a "40-something going on 80" , her behaviour appearing to be that of someone much older, yet we also hear her musing about the possible romantic and sexually charged feelings she may have towards her niece's ex-boy friend. Little is mentioned about the "Sunday Philosophy Club" itself, but no doubt Alexander McCall Smith will fill in these frustrating gaps in further episodes with this intriguing lady.
This book was a joy to read, and I look forward to the next instalment.
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The Sunday Philosophy Club (Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries)
The Sunday Philosophy Club (Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries) by Alexander McCall Smith (Hardcover - Sep 2004)
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