Review: The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday by Alexander McCall Smith

What This Book is About:

“In this fabulous new installment in the bestselling adventures of Isabel Dalhousie, Isabel is asked to help a doctor who has been disgraced by allegations of scientific fraud concerning a newly marketed drug. Our ever-curious moral philosopher finds her interest piqued. Would a doctor with a stellar reputation make such a simple but grave mistake? If not, what explains the tragic accident that resulted in the death of a patient? Clearly, an investigation is in order, especially since a man’s reputation is in jeopardy. Could he be the victim of someone else’s mistake? Or perhaps he has been willfully deceived by a pharmaceutical company with a great deal to gain.

Not every problem prompts an investigation (take, for example, her ongoing struggle with her housekeeper, Grace, over the care of Isabel’s infant son, Charlie), but, as we’ve seen, whatever hte case, whatever the solution, Isabel’s combination of spirit, smarts, empathy, and unabashed nosiness guarantees a delightful adventures.”

Ms. Bookish’s Quick Take: I have always had a place in my heart for Smith’s gentle mysteries involving Isabel Dalhousie, and The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday didn’t disappoint me. Isabel is true to form in this book: a very delightful and kind woman who thinks a lot. Her boyfriend Jamie might say she “thinks too much”, but the places to which her thoughts roam are just delightful. One caveat: if you’ve never read any of the Isabel Dalhousie books before, be warned that aren’t really mysteries. The mystery is more of a side story. What you get in The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday is the opportunity to spend time with Isabel Dalhousie and her outlook on life as a moral philosopher. Interesting and sometimes thought-provoking, but not very mysterious.

The Full Review of The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday

This fifth book in the Isabel Dalhousie series finds Isabel settling into life as a mother to her son, 16-month-old Charlie. Isabel, in her early 40s, is not your typical new mother. Independently wealthy, and the editor (and owner) of the scholarly journal The Review of Applied Ethics, she has full-time help in her long-time housekeeper, Grace; her boyfriend Jamie, Charlie’s father, is a 29-year-old musician who lives in his own flat but spends much of his time at Isabel’s house.

I began reading The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday right on the heels of a gripping paranormal mystery, and at first I was wondering if I would feel bored beginning this book so quickly after reading a real page turner. But I needn’t have worried – within a handful of pages, I was deep back inside Isabel Dalhousie’s Edinburgh, a place of art and music and philosophy.

It is a very different place from Ian Rankin’s Edinburgh in the Rebus mysteries (which I also enjoy reading). But there is a time and place for different moods when it comes to reading books, and the Isabel Dalhousie books are perfect for slipping into a softer, cultured world of manners, surrounded by a lot of thinking about the moral issues that arise in every day life.

Most of all, though, the delight in these books comes from Isabel herself. She can’t stop thinking, and her mind makes connections to all sorts of tangents. Here, Isabel is having a serious conversation with a friend about family resentments:

Yes, thought Isabel; and she reflected on her own family, where Cat had entertained feelings of intense jealousy over Jamie, forgiven her, patched up, and then relapsed. Those feelings were always there, she thought, in spite of our best efforts to dispel them. Resentment lingers: it sounded like the name of a racehorse – not a successful one of course; racehorses should not linger unduly.

“You’re smiling?”

She could not help herself; it is a concomitant of my allowing my thoughts to wander excessively, she thought. Then I smile or even say something.

I was particularly glad to see Isabel finally beginning to let go of her perception of the age gap between herself and Jamie. From the very start I’ve never thought of Isabel as “old”, yet she obviously thinks of herself as “older”. This self-perception of hers annoyed me a little. In The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday she finally starts letting go of her emphasis on the age gap; no-one who counts thinks about it much at all. It’s always been mostly her reaction and she is, at last, starting to see that.

The mystery itself is a gentle one, with an interesting but equally gentle resolution. The main theme of the book is on truth and lies, seen through the lens of Isabel the moral philosopher.

Two questions lingered after I finished the book: 1. Did Isabel send that letter to Professor Dove? and 2. What did Marcus Moncrieff end up deciding to do? I imagine the first will be answered in the next book about Isabel Dalhousie; the second is up to my own imagination.

You won’t get a plot-driven mystery with The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday. But Isabel Dalhousie is a wonderful, intelligent, thinking woman; she’s independent, wealthy and truly kind. The mystery keeps the story moving. As Isabel herself notes, she’s not an amateur sleuth; she’s an “intermeddler”:

She heard herself say that – the case – and thought: Who do you think you are? You’re beginning to talk like some ridiculous sleuth, when you’re just Isabel Dalhousie, intermeddler. That was the right word, although it was heavy with self-criticism. She imagined the dictionary definition – intermeddler: one who meddles in affairs that are no business of hers; as in: “Isabel Dalhousie was a real intermeddler” or “Isabel Dalhousie, an echt intermeddler” (for echt, see the Real McCoy).

Isabel is very curious about the people and the world around her, and it’s this curiosity that sweeps me up with her into the story. I enjoyed The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday; it always amazes me that Smith has this ability to make the world of moral philosophy so interesting. When I took ethics courses in school, I found them tremendously boring. Perhaps if I had had Smith as a professor, it would have been very different! Ms. Bookish’s Rating: A: Enjoyable Read ?

3 thoughts on “Review: The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday by Alexander McCall Smith

  1. Laura

    I recently read this book, too, and plan to post a short review next week. I loved your review – very thorough and so right! I have not enjoyed this series as much as the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, but I admit it is growing on me.


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