cover image Unusual Uses for Olive Oil

Unusual Uses for Olive Oil

Alexander McCall Smith . Anchor, $16.95 (203p) ISBN 978-0-307-27989-7

Prolific serial novelist Smith (The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency) gently pokes fun at academia and its professoriate with this slapstick-y, deadpan-lite fourth installment of the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series. The socially inept Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld is shocked when Professor Unterholzer, an oft- jealous rival who blames von Igelfeld for crippling his dachshund, is shortlisted for a prestigious, well-endowed prize. Believing a mistake has occurred, von Igelfeld makes an accusation of nepotism, sure that an unusual nose structure is proof of a familial connection. A hopeful romance with Frau Benz, a Schloss-owning heiress, grows tenuous as a result of an embarrassing faux pas; although Smith slyly allows von Igelfeld's moth-ravaged suit and scissor-cut sleeves to pass for curious and endearing. The professor is hoodwinked by students he chaperones to a Bavarian retreat and, later, when he slips and has a near-death plunge of three thousand feet off an Alpine summit, he is ironically hailed "an unlikely hero," resulting in tabloid-style fame. Von Igelfeld's foibles are many and his misfortunes ridiculous%E2%80%94trying to help at a dinner party leads to a messy encounter with olive oil and a lame dachshund%E2%80%94yet Smith makes him dignified and subtle, a cleverly scripted sympathetic hero. (Jan.)