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The Careful Use of Compliments

(Isabel Dalhousie #4)

3.80  ·  Rating details ·  7,834 ratings  ·  608 reviews


Nothing captures the charm of Edinburgh like the bestselling Isabel Dalhousie series of novels featuring the insatiably curious philosopher and woman detective. Whether investigating a case or a problem of philosophy, the indefatigable Isabel Dalhousie, one of fiction's most richly developed amateur detectives, is always ready to pursue the answer
Paperback, 247 pages
Published August 26th 2008 by Anchor Books (first published 2007)
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3.80  · 
Rating details
 ·  7,834 ratings  ·  608 reviews

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Oct 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
For a great light read, why not start with the eminently civilised novels of McCall Smith?

Immense learning and a lifetime of experience combined with careful, playful observation make each one of his books a harried literate modern’s Great Escape.

Isabel Dalhousie is an inquisitive and philosophizing young lady, but she lacks street smarts.

So she gets into some pretty sticky wickets!

But she’s endlessly charming, and combines sophistication with a disarming guilelessness that will captivate the
Nandakishore Varma
This book is the fourth of a series, and as usual with series, follows about a character or a set of characters. Isabel Dalhousie is the protagonist of this one. She is very interesting: philosopher, editor of The Review of Applied Ethics, unmarried mother of a boy whose father is her niece Cat's ex-boyfriend and fourteen years her junior. Isabel keeps on a running monologue in her head which the reader is privy to: this is the main charm of the novel.

This novel, though standalone, presumably p
Richard Derus
Rating: 3.5* of five

The Book Report: Isabel Dalhousie, wealthy old-Edinburgh-family woman, art collector, philosopher, editrix of The Journal of Applied Ethics, lover of a beautiful younger musician, single mother.


My Review: This is the fourth Isabel Dalhousie novel, as I am pleased to note Pantheon is now marketing them, not mysteries. Now I wonder why my library still keeps them in the mysteries...?

It's a lovely, warm way to spend a frustrating day's end, reading a well-written bo
Oct 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Every time I read one of Alexander McCall Smith's books (particularly the Scottish ones, though I love the Precious Ramotswe books too) I am stunned. He presents such a gentle, humane view of human relationships, without being naive or saccharine. I also can't get over how well he writes from a woman's perspective!

I relate everything I read to my own experience, which is perhaps a bad quality, but makes every book personal to me. So of course to find Isabel with a 3 month old baby in this book,
Mar 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you like the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith, you'll like this one. Isabel is now the mother of an infant and trying to figure out her relationship to her baby's father. She becomes involved, as usual, in the affairs of others while trying to decide whether to buy a painting by a Scottish artist she likes. The ending isn't that surprising, and the resolution of her difficult relationship with her niece is unsatisfying, but I read these books for the wry humor, philosophical ...more
May 10, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller-mystery
I gave it five stars because it really made me feel like I am on holidays and that this is how holidays should be enjoyed. It was a warm feeling and I think I could read this book again during Christmas, with a cup of tea or hot chocolate beside.

The main character, Isabel, was a charming lady and I grew a particular fondness on her. Though sometimes she appeared confused, or just wanted to play that 'ping-pong' game of thoughts, cause anyway she already had an aim in her mind. She sometimes mad
Jo Mclennan
Apr 22, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Isabel Dalhousie books just keep getting better! I really enjoyed this one and the last one (The Right Attitude to Rain). Although NOT detective fiction as they are so often classified, they are easy reads with interesting philosophical questions presented in a way even non-philosophers like me can understand.
Sep 24, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: those looking for a break
This, the Isabel Dalhousie series, is one of two series that I keep tabs on, and both have new books out this fall. This series is largely character driven, has a great sense of geographic place, and is just an easy, entertaining read. Plus, I'll always give points for a book whose main character is a philosopher. I do think this particular book is the weakest of the 4 Dalhousie books, but that's alright. Still quite enjoyable.

I do confess that I almost didn't list this on my Goodreads account -
Mar 23, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
this my first encounter with Isabel Dalhousie and I am sorry to say - we did not become great friends. Since the plot, or "mystery", of this story is rather tepid and meh, there is not much action, so the book becomes heavily reliant on the characters, chiefly Isabel. (I struggled with completing this book, all the while hoping for some development in the plot or at least something relatable, welll...) Isabel has the makings of a lovely main character and is supposedly the “aspirational figure" ...more
Beth Bonini
Mar 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It would have been interesting to see Isabel Dalhousie during pregnancy, but the author chose to make a rather big jump between books: so the third Dalhousie (The Right Attitude to Rain) ends with Isabel telling Jamie that she is pregnant, and this next one opens with Isabel having a 3 month old baby named Charlie. Perhaps the author felt uncomfortable getting into the nitty-gritty of pregnancy and the grimier aspects of early motherhood, but the storyline glides over all of this very smoothly. ...more
Sep 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Comment after reading first chapter:
I had read the first two books in this series, but not the third. I did enjoy them, but my comments included, "It was an easy, light read. Nothing much happens.". Because of that when this book - the forth in the series - appeared on the table at a BookCrossing Meet I did not think it would matter that I had not read the third story. THEN, in the first few pages I read that Isabel has had a baby. old is she exactly? I thought she was late middle ag
I always say these Alexander McCall Smith books are review-proof, especially if you are on the 4th book of a series, as is the case with The Careful Use of Compliments. I had read the 3rd book earlier this year and had not intended to pick up this one quite yet, but I had just come off such a mentally taxing read that I really need the light and fluff of McCall Smith to do what I call a cleanse of my literary palette. Normally, I would have switched off with the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency ser ...more
Oct 17, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
My wife talked me into reading this one, even though I'd pretty much given up on this series. Many people find Isabel Dalhousie to be charming--I find her annoying. She allegedly has a PhD in philosophy, and she thinks incessantly about almost everything. She says she likes to let her mind wander, because that's how it arrives at interesting places. I don't find her getting anyplace interesting very often. Her musings remind me of the way your mind drifts while driving on a long trip. At the end ...more
Jan 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: series
I LOVE Alexander McCall Smith. His books are just plain delightful. They are my comfort zone. Like-able characters, fun plots. While his writing does make me think, he has a light handed touch at ethical dilemas and current events. I love the way the main characters often have a rambling train of thought that allows the author to weave around lots of life's little issues without hitting you over the head with it. Fleeting references to a world view. The books are like those old "Little House" ty ...more
James Adams
Apr 08, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: mystery
I had heard of Smith, and as such expected this to be a mystery novel. It both is and isn't, but it is primarily a slice of life piece concerned with a few artistic types in Edinburgh. It is warm, cozy and kind, but not a whole lot happens. The characters are mostly engaging, and the dialog is winning, but the general lack of story is concerning. Still, if you don't mind a mystery with low stakes and a lot of suburban gossip, this is a lot of fun.
Don't get me wrong, I like this series and I will continue reading it. It just feels a little like the same old same old with a baby thrown in. The mystery this time was actually mysterious, even though the mystery is never the focus in this series.
Nov 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Listened to the audiobook version. Especially liked the storyline involving an artist & the wild, western island of Jura. These books are my relaxing, late evening stories . . .
Sep 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Isabel Dalhousie enjoys her job as editor of the Journal of Applied Ethics but she is upset by a letter telling her she is to be replaced as editor. She find she is much more upset about it than she might have thought. Meanwhile she is settling down into single motherhood and looking after baby Charlie with the help of housekeeper, Grace and the boy's father, Jamie. But Isabel wants to try and repair her relationship with her niece, Cat who feels Isabel has stolen Jamie from her even though she ...more
May 13, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed this book very much, but then I always like McCall Smith. Isabel Dalhousie might be my favorite character that he's created, largely because she reminds me of me. Everything for her is fodder for thinking, and she lives in a complicated moral universe where every decision is weighed against Dalhousie's notion of right and wrong/should or shouldn't do.

But it's not as dry as all that sounds. She loves a niece who hardly seems worth the bother, for the most part, and she loves a man who'
May 13, 2009 rated it liked it
I ran out of reading material twenty-four hours before the end of a recent trip and needed something to fill the flight home, so I picked this book up expecting nothing special; I found it, however, to be most enjoyable. Smith’s protagonist, Isabel Dalhousie, is a philosopher and the editor of the Review of Applied Ethics in Edinburgh, Scotland. The story is a rather meandering one, plot being a bit secondary and the “mystery” being a little unessential, but Smith’s characterizations are strong ...more
Jan 25, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have rarely encountered a character as pensive as Isabel Dalhousie. She deliberates about every aspect of life, and strives to make the highest moral decision. She is a great role model for anyone, and I wish she were my best friend.
Jan 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love these little bloodshed or gunshots. Fun to read Isabel's thought process. Makes philosophy interesting and real.
Feb 03, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary
I just love this series, it's like coming home and sitting in your favorite chair with a nice cup of tea.
Jan 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jul 11, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I'm getting hooked...
Jan 22, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another fun AMS book. I love Isabel . . . she can't help herself from overthinking everything. I really resonate with her!
I've been looking for light--but good reading--and the Sunday Philosopher's series are a perfect match for my mood. This is the fourth of the series, and I'm glad that there are many more to read. I guess you'd call Isabel Dalhousie an independent scholar; she is the editor of a philosophy journal, yet she is not a philosophy professor. In this novel, she is ousted from her position because she doesn't have an academic appointment, but that doesn't stop her. That's one plot line of the novel; an ...more
Sep 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
When I read Book 3 in this series, I swore I was done with it, but an upcoming visit to Edinburgh prompted me to give Isabel one more try, because these books really do convey a sense of place. Unfortunately for me, this book had less of the charming Edinburgh atmosphere that has drawn me to the series, and more of the "exasperating Isabel" elements that have put me off it. At one point, Isabel's much younger lover, Jamie, accuses her of interfering in people's lives--he wonders why she can't ju ...more
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Do NOT read online reviews, do not read the books out of order, and set aside a week just to read this series!
Really 4 1/2; not a classical, but it has consumed my life. I have developed affection for the characters (and Scotland, if Smith hasn't already hooked you.) And, though not exactly a mystery series, each book is somewhat of a cliff-hanger. I have other books that will expire, so I'm taking a break, but I plowed right through the first four; losing two nights sleep because I just couldn
Sarah Reason
Dec 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Another delightful visit into the genteel Edinburgh world of Isobel Dalhousie. I confess to being addicted, to the point that my heart soared when I saw there is yet another novel in the series. If you love Scotland, words, philosophy, then these books are for you, too.
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Alexander McCall Smith is the author of the international phenomenon The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie Series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, and the 44 Scotland Street series. He is professor emeritus of medical law at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland and has served on many national and international bodies concerned with bioethics. He was born in what ...more

Other books in the series

Isabel Dalhousie (1 - 10 of 12 books)
  • The Sunday Philosophy Club (Isabel Dalhousie, #1)
  • Friends, Lovers, Chocolate (Isabel Dalhousie, #2)
  • The Right Attitude to Rain (Isabel Dalhousie, #3)
  • The Comforts of a Muddy Saturday (Isabel Dalhousie, #5)
  • The Lost Art of Gratitude (Isabel Dalhousie, #6)
  • The Charming Quirks of Others (Isabel Dalhousie, #7)
  • The Forgotten Affairs of Youth (Isabel Dalhousie, #8)
  • The Uncommon Appeal of Clouds (Isabel Dalhousie, #9)
  • The Novel Habits of Happiness (Isabel Dalhousie, #10)
  • A Distant View of Everything (Isabel Dalhousie #11)
“Do not act meanly, do not be unkind, because the time for setting things right may pass before your heart changes course.
Isabel Dalhousie”
“...the thought crossed her mind that a bed was really a very strange thing-a human nest, really, where our human fragility made its nightly demands for comfort and cosseting” 9 likes
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