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  • delightful as always

    “There, under the table, with its distinct sub-tabular smells, Cyril’s self-restraint was frequently tested almost to breaking point as he contemplated the ankles that he might so easily and deliciously nip. He did not bite; lesser dogs did that…” A Promise Of Ankles is the fourteenth book in the 44 Scotland Street serial novel by Scottish author, Alexander McCall Smith, and in it, the lives of the residents of 44 Scotland Street and those of their friends are, once again, updated for the continuing enjoyment of series fans. With the awful Irene away in Aberdeen, life for Stewart Pollock and his seven-year-old son Bertie is pretty good, but just a short return visit reinforces all those negative impressions. Stuart offers his mother the use of Irene’s study, a revenge in which Nicola exults. Just as Stuart is sure he is in love with Katie, our favourite narcissist, Bruce Anderson appears on the scene. Stuart has to make do with a poem… At school, Bertie is thrown into a gender crisis by malicious Olive and her lieutenant, Pansy, but Nicola has one or two solutions up her sleeve. Blue jeans get immediate approval from Stuart. The second, less desirable, solution morphs into a welcome break from Bertie’s plaguers: a month-long educational exchange to a school in Bertie’s promised land, Glasgow, with his best friend, Ranald Braveheart MacPherson. While nasty, needling Olive and Pansy make a concerted effort to sour Bertie’s anticipation, they can’t spoil the added special treat that Nicola has in store for the boys. Domenica MacDonald makes the acquaintance of a new tenant, one of a group of students renting the vacant flat. She knows her husband, Angus Lordie will be heartened by the fact that they are studying the classics. Angus’s dog, Cyril manages (mostly) to resist the repeated temptation of biteable ankles within his reach, and unwittingly indulges in a bit of archaeology. At the gallery, Pat’s new job in Paris presents the ever-kind Matthew with a staffing problem. At Big Lou’s café, as part-owner, he tries to interest Big Lou in varying the menu. But at home, Matthew can only contemplate his good fortune: the love of Elspeth and his triplets, and work of James, the excellent au pair. Thus, he is surprised to find himself twice engaging in house-breaking. As always, characters reflect on, or expostulate on a variety of subjects, exposing the reader to small doses of gentle philosophy in the process. Childhood games, customer service, the comfort of continuity, envy, sonnets, Neanderthals, historical guilt, vanilla poetry, prayers and barking, bagpipes and belonging, oppression, justice and the blessing of benign government, the loss of the Gaelic language,and categories of rows in a shared flat: all these feature. And of course, McCall Smith can’t resist a dig at the Turner Prize. McCall Smith neatly resolves the question of a possibly significant archaeological find. James’s successful method of corralling triplets is revealed, as is some of Angus Lordie’s backstory. Bertie is unfailingly delightful, and occasionally manages to squeeze the reader’s heart: “Bertie reached out to touch his father’s forearm. ‘Don’t look sad, Daddy,’ he whispered. ‘It wasn’t your fault that you married Mummy.’” The concept of a serial novel is an interesting one, as the author is locked into what he has written earlier, unable to edit. Thus the name change of one of the students is more likely to be noted when presented in book format than when read in instalments in the Scotsman. McCall Smith’s work is always a joy to read. This one has a generous helping of laugh-out-loud moments and a hilarious final twist, and fans will hope for many more instalments of this delightful series.

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  • Another Wonderful Scotland Street Story!

    I adore these books! I have read and re-read these many times. The characters leap off the page. and I always want more. Always a treat when the next comes along. Beautifully written, I feel I am with old friends from start to finish. All the Scotland Street books should be an NHS prescription to bring sunshine into our lives. Next Please!

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