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The Sunday Philosophy Club: An Isabel Dalhousie Story, Book 1 Audio Download – Unabridged

3.2 out of 5 stars 106 customer reviews

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By Bluebell TOP 500 REVIEWER on 9 July 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
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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Format: Paperback
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.
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By A Customer on 6 Oct. 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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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By Sandford VINE VOICE on 12 Nov. 2004
Format: Hardcover
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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