Once The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency became popular, it seems like everyone raced out to read all the rest of what Alexander McCall Smith had written. So that probably means I am the last person on the planet to read this first book in the Scotland Street series. Interestingly though, I haven't heard much talk about this series and that's too bad. Because as charming as the Botswana books are, I liked this one even a shade more.
This novel has a varied, colorful, and extensive cast of characters populating its pages and the reader gets to know each and every one of them as individual characters. Most of the characters live at 44 Scotland Street in Edinburgh. Pat is having her second gap year because of vaguely alluded to circumstances. She moves into a flat with Bruce, a good looking but rather narcissistic, somewhat lazy young man. Neighbor Domenica, a widowed former academic becomes friends with Pat. Five year old genius Bertie lives with his domineering mother and father in the building as well. As the lives of these tenants, and a few outside characters, intertwine, the reader is treated to mundane lives and events written in a most delightful and engaging way. Unrequited love, failed set-ups, therapy, and misunderstandings abound in the daily lives of our characters. But far from being boringly domestic, this gives the book a comfortable and familiar and pleasing feel.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time at 44 Scotland Street and hopped right out to make sure I had all the subsequent books in the series because I am curious to see where the vagaries of fate will take our characters next. And I fully expect to be introduced to the people alluded to but missing from this installment. There is a serial feel to the book itself so there are natural stopping places throughout if you find yourself enchanted by this one too late at night as I did. The characters are all very complete in themselves, feeling as if they could be your very own next door neighbors. And the descriptions of Edinburgh are intriguing and wonderful. This book and the city it represents are both wonderful to visit (although I think I'd stay out of the old train tunnels given my slight claustrophobia, thanks) and I look forward to future visits to Scotland Street.