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The American Boy by Andrew Taylor

I picked up this book thinking, oh, a Richard & Judy recommendation. It’s probably very good, but the fact that they recommended it is enough to turn me off. But I decided that that was a silly prejudice and bought the book anyway. And I’m glad I did!

The premise is, that it is 1819 and the 11-year-old Edgar Allen (Poe) has been taken to London by his foster parents. While his father conducts business, Edgar is sent to a boarding school for boys in Stoke Newington. While there, he makes friends with a boy, Charles Frant,  who closely resembles him in manner and features. This connection becomes a catalyst for a horrible crime and although young Edgar is not a major part of the proceedings, he is there in the background.

The story is told through the eyes of a teacher at the school, Thomas Shield, who is fascinated with Charles’ mother. He becomes part of the horror that strikes at the Frant family and also the unwitting detective who pieces the lies, secrets and betrayal together to solve the crime at the centre. There is lots of period detail, but it never overwhelms the story, which has plenty of twists and turns.  I really could not put this book down and I sat up until 3 o’clock in the morning to finish it. I just could not go to sleep until I had finished it!

Someone should make a movie of it, they really should. Especially with the fascination in the UK for TV series’ set in that time. (And it was funny to think that while Edgar Allen Poe was a schoolboy in England, my little cottage in Wales was being built!)

The Careful Use of Compliments by Alexander McCall Smith

I’m a fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s books; though I love his Botswana novels, I must admit to preferring his novels that are set in Edinburgh, especially his Isabel Dalhousie stories. This one is the fourth in the “Sunday Philosophy Club” series. Isabel Dalhousie is the editor of a small-press applied ethics journal, who solves mysteries on the side.

Isabel is well-off, single and has a calm personality. I thought that she was at least in her mid 50?s, but in this novel, she is said to be in her early 40?s.  She is now trying to cope with having become the mother of a baby son, whose father is Jamie, her niece’s ex-boyfriend.  Isabel wrestled with her growing attraction to Jamie over the past two novels, after Cat dumped him. Jamie nursed an unrequited crush on Cat and hoped that Isabel would help him to return to Cat’s affections. But, although 15 years her junior, he eventually fell in love with Isabel.

Isabel’s life is changing, as she is sacked from her postition as editor of the applied ethics journal. Then Cat takes up with the man who is to replace Isabel, while holding a grudge against her aunt for “snatching” Jamie away. It’s all a dreadful muddle and Isabel is not fond of messy emotions. At the same time, she is puzzled as to how a supposedly dead artist could be still turning out paintings of the Isle of Jura.

Some feel that the Isabel Dalhousie books lack the charm of the Precious Ramotswe novels. To be sure, there is a lot of Isabel’s philisophical musings to wade through, but I find her throught processes to be fascinating. Isabel is calm and cool-headed and would seem, on the face of it, to lack Precious’ passion. But she is no less intrigued by human behaviour and driven to sort out the muddle that other people seem to make of their lives. I find her to be every bit as charming and am hoping that one day. Mr McCall Smith will send Isabel to Botswana!

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