cover image The Talented Mr. Varg

The Talented Mr. Varg

Alexander McCall Smith. Pantheon, $24.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4896-8

Smith’s disappointing sequel to 2019’s The Department of Sensitive Crimes has its memorable and moving moments, but not enough of them. Det. Ulf Varg and the other members of Sweden’s Department of Sensitive Crimes handle cases with political or social angles, not run-of-the-mill cases. Varg and his colleagues, despite their special status, must work in a bureaucracy where supplies can only be ordered by an item number they aren’t given access to, leading them to request something at random so they can start to link items with their identifying numbers. Other mild satire includes Varg’s politician brother belonging to the Moderate Extremists Party. One plotline focuses on the possible blackmail of a prominent author known as Sweden’s Hemingway; another involves an allegation of fraud in international dog sales. The heart of the book is Varg, who just may be too sensitive to handle sensitive crimes. At one point, he has to balance self-interest and ethics when a colleague he has a crush on asks him to look into whether her husband is having an affair. This entry falls short of the high standard set by Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books. [em]Agent: Robin Straus, Robin Straus Agency. (Apr.) [/em]