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on 20 May 2017
Very well written but is the author writing a text book or a novel? It tried to be in the same vein as Christie or Sayers but is too dispassionate to hit that goal. I found it very remote and cold and seriously wanted to shake the "heroine" into displaying some feelings. Not for me as I like "human" characters.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 9 July 2008
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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on 17 April 2017
It is my wife who reads the McCall Smith novels with such great pleasure. She finds the Isabel Dalhousie novels particularly good.. In our middle age we studied philosophy at university, where one of our lecturers was Scottish ! Now in our old age she shares the philosophy 'bits' with me. It encourages us to go back to our bookcase shelves bulging with our treasured volumes of philosophy.
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on 5 February 2014
I brought this for a gift for my dear mum and now she wants the whole series! Great reading couldn't pull her away
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on 16 August 2017
as described no problems
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on 4 January 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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on 14 May 2017
This book was chosen by a member of my book club. I am not a fan of Alexander McCall Smith and really do not enjoy his detectives, or the stories. But obviously by the number of books he sells he is very popular and I would not put off anyone trying his books.
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on 29 July 2007
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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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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on 14 August 2015
I really enjoyed this book; what a brilliant author he is. I am quickly moving onto 'Friends, Lovers, Chocolate' and then hopefully many more Alexander McCall Smith books. I didn't struggle to take to the characters like some others have said - In fact I didn't get bored or fed up with any of it.
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