cover image The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds

The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds

Alexander McCall Smith. Pantheon, $24.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-307-90733-2

In Smith's delightful ninth novel featuring Isabel Dalhousie (after 2011's The Forgotten Affairs of Youth), Isabel, "somebody who sorts out people's difficulties" when she's not editing the Review of Applied Ethics, assists a wealthy Scottish gentleman, Duncan Munrowe, with a tricky situation. One of Munrowe's favorite paintings, a Poussin, has been stolen, and he wants her help in dealing with the thieves (there's talk of a ransom). A minor subplot involves the endearing Eddie, who works in her niece Cat's deli, and his romantic woes. The almost too-good-to-be-true Isabel does her usual thing%E2%80%94talking, listening, and puzzling through the ethical implications of things%E2%80%94to bring about a fitting, and just, resolution. With his usual deft hand, Smith conjures characters with a few lines%E2%80%94housekeeper Grace with her short fuse is particularly alive%E2%80%94and he has a knack for combining light comedy and serious thought. The plot (not untypically for the series or the author) is as gossamer thin as even the thinnest clouds, though it's a pleasure to watch it scudding past. Agent: Robin Straus.%C2%A0(Oct.)