Alexander McCall Smith's The Sunday Philosophy Club (Pantheon, Mid-Sept., $19.95) is the first of a new series by the author of the best selling The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency set of five. As with the earlier series this new third person narration is essentially a low-key cozy, though thickened with bemusing academic observations and philosophic argument. Atmospheric Edinburgh, Scotland, is one of this short novel's great strengths. The other being its protagonist. Isabel Dalhousie is a 40s-something intellectual of independent means, and editor of the Review of Applied Ethics. Following a concert, an attractive young man plunges headfirst to his death from "the gods", the upper circle of Usher Hall. It's Isabel who makes eye contact with him on his way down. Did he fall, or was he pushed? I found it a bit strange that the position of the victim's clothing, when he took his dive seemed contradictory. But that's a problem for the physics department. And no one thinks it's significant that the victim uttered no cry when he went over the rail.
Though ruled an accident, Isabel's moral code, curiosity, and need to shake the incident's effect, prompts her to investigate. The victim's roommate suggests the victim may have uncovered something-funny going on at the fund management firm where he worked. So Isabel, with a little help from friends and contacts, digs deeper. Has she found a motive for murder? And if she finds a killer, can she prove murder, let alone insider-trading?
Isabel is distracted from her inquiry by her niece Cat's love life. One day an author will name his romantic interest Dog (Spillane's Doggerel Kelly notwithstanding) --- and readers will howl. Cat's dumped Mr. Right (whom Isabel is half in love with herself) in favor of Mr. Wrong ("unfaithful" written all over him). She's also sidetracked by journal deadlines, and having to muse and mull over philosophy papers submitted for her review. The Sunday Philosophy Club is quietly and intellectually interesting, but devoid of both action and thrills. There are a couple of weepy men, though one explains that his family is allergic to onion. The denouement (there really is no climax) is also a bit dissatisfying. And we never meet the other members of the club. Maybe in book two they'll have a meeting.
There are times at Uncle Edgar's when certain books, usually in small quantity and falling it a gray area, slip onto the shelf (OK, land on a stack on the floor). They're titles often easy to overlook. I'd rather that not happen to You're Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger (Naval Institute Press. $15.95) by Roger Hall.
This welcome reprint of Hall's 1957 WWII memoir relates his experience in the Office of Strategic Services. Roger Hall was one of the "glorious amateurs" sought by OSS founder William "Wild Bill" Donovan for espionage, resistance coordination, and sabotage behind enemy lines. Assigned to Special Operations, and while waiting insertion, Hall became an expert parachutist and instructor. Various factors delayed Hall's drop, but his bad French, lack of awe for authority, smart mouth, and admitted (to himself) impatience with inefficiency probably contributed to the hold up.
The story is low-key and revealing, not tongue-in-cheek though often very funny. A comparison to No Time for Sergeants is in the right direction but falls short of accuracy.
In the forward, Washington Post staffer Adam Bernstein relates how when first published You're Stepping on My Cloak and Dagger was a big hit with younger readers. And after being so long out of print is considered a cult classic in intelligence circles. Also, many people Bernstein spoke to confessed that Hall's was the only book they had ever stolen from the library. If not the highest praise ---- it's at least a significant indicator.
by Gerri Balter
Cold Company by Sue Henry ($6.99) begins as Jessie Arnold oversees the rebuilding of her cabin. She thinks her life is improving. Then the crew finds a skeleton entombed in a skeleton wall. Along with the skeleton they find a piece of jewelry that once belonged to one of the victims of a serial killer who is now in jail. When more women are killed in the same way, the police think they have a copy cat killer on their hands. Jessie begins to receive roses from an anonymous person. That is the mark of the serial killer. Is she the next victim? Jessie isn't going to sit around and wait. She begins to investigate on her own. She is determined to find out the truth before it's too late.
A Fashionable Murder by Valerie Wolzien ($6.99) is a Josie Pigeon mystery that doesn't take place on a construction site. Josie is in New York with her son, Tyler, and the man she loves, Sam. Josie thinks that Sam is going to ask her to marry him. She isn't sure she's ready for that step. When Sam's former girlfriend, Pamela Peel, is found murdered in Sam's apartment, Sam is the prime suspect. He refuses to tell Josie the truth about what happened before his former girlfriend was murdered. Josie is sure he is innocent, but she becomes afraid that maybe Sam is still in love with Pamela. With the help of Sam's mother and Betty, a friend and former employee, Josie begins to investigate Pamela's death not only to find out the truth about Sam and Pamela, but to clear his name.
Florida Getaway by Max Allan Collins ($6.99) is the first in his novelization of the CSI: Miami television series. This novel starts in Las Vegas when Thomas Lessor leaves Las Vegas for Miami. Gil Grissom knows he's guilty of the murder of Erica Hardy, but he doesn't have the evidence. When he does find the evidence, Catherine Willows calls Horatio Caine in Miami and asks him to pick up Thomas Lessor. The problem is that Thomas Lessor has been murdered shortly after his arrival in Miami. A couple of teenagers trying to find privacy on the beach find parts of Lessor's body due to the ringing of his cell phone that was buried with them. Caine and his team sift through the evidence slowly, trying to find the murderer. It isn't easy because most of the suspects are lying and the evidence doesn't seem to match any of them, at first. Slowly, the CSI team begins to learn the truth. Even then the story isn't over. It twists and turns to the very end.
Max Collins does a wonderful time bringing the television characters to life on the printed page. I recommend it highly to fans of CSI Miami as well as to anyone who likes forensic mysteries.