Alexander McCall Smith must be one of the busiest authors on the planet. Every time I look, there is a new book, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them. Like many of the readers at my library, my favorite series is the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels. I am also keen on Portuguese Irregular Verbs and its sequels. According to Random House's McCall Smith web site, he has written over fifty books, including numerous serious academic titles. He is currently a professor of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland.
I just finished listening to 44 Scotland Street, read by Robert Ian MacKenzie. In its introduction, McCall Smith says that he was impressed by the Tales of the City novels by Armistead Maupin that were serialized in the San Francisco Chronicle. He took a challenge by editors at The Scotsman in Edinburgh to write a serialized novel and submitted 44 Scotland Street in 110 daily installments, which were run in the paper between January and June of 2004.
I do not want to say much about the story and spoil the surprises. The story is set in Edinburgh, and like in Tales of the City, it involves a group of people who inhabit or visit a particular apartment building. Pat rents a room in a flat occupied by Bruce, a young surveyor with many expensive hair gels and colognes, and two absent tenants. The ever sympathetic Domenica lives across the hall, and five year old Bertie practices his saxaphone and Italian downstairs. His mother Irene worries because his school does not follow the principles of Melaine Klein. Pat tries to help Mathew, her boss at the art gallery, establish whether a painting really is by the Scottish master Samuel Peploe. The real mystery writer Ian Rankin has a cameo role. It must have been fun to read in short daily installments.
Like all McCall Smith novels, there are sequels. A second series ran in The Scotsman last winter and is now available in the U.K. under the title Expresso Tales. If I had known I could have had Aaron buy a copy when he was in London. We could have been the first library in the area to have a copy. Amazon reports that the title will not be for sale in the U.S. until July 11, 2006. A third series began September 19, 2005 and can be read by subscription.
Warning: you might laugh out loud.
McCall Smith, Alexander. 44 Scotland Street. New York: Anchor Books, 2005. ISBN 1400079446
McCall Smith, Alexander. 44 Scotland Street. Prince Frederick, MD: Recorded Books, 2005. ISBN 1419340522, 10 compact discs