Nancy McKibben's Reviews > Bertie Plays the Blues

Bertie Plays the Blues by Alexander McCall Smith
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really liked it
bookshelves: reviewed
Recommended for: Alexander McCall Smith fans; readers who like Scotland

Bertie Plays the Blues
By Alexander McCall Smith

Alexander McCall Smith, is, of course, the author of the The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, which would be enough for most people. Yet he somehow also writes the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, the Corduroy Mansions series, and the 44 Scotland Street series, of which Bertie Plays the Blues is the latest offering. Does the man never sleep?

Perhaps he doesn’t, but his books seem uniformly good. The 44 Scotland Street series is set in Edinburgh, where Smith resides (he is pictured on the back cover in a kilt), and the setting functions much as another character - not because it is described at great length, but because the reader feels that the story could not happen elsewhere in just the same way. Where else, for example, would people applaud parents for bestowing the names Rognvald, Tobermory and Fergus on their newborn triplets?
Domenica was interested in the names chosen for the triplets. ‘We can be grateful that they’ve chosen real names,’ she said. ‘You can’t go wrong if you name a child after a prominent geographical feature. Tobermory is very nice.’
So there’s one story going on, that of the young couple with the triplets who desperately need a good night’s sleep. Then there are Angus the painter and Domenica, experiencing a little friction in combining their households into soon-to-be-married bliss. There is seven-year-old Bertie of the title, an engaging prodigy whose overbearing mother has unintentionally made her son’s life so miserable with psychiatric sessions and endless enrichment classes that he decides it would be best for all to steal off to Glasgow and put himself up for adoption at the same agency that found adoptive parents for his friend Ranald.

Although Smith’s books in some sense amble along, the reader is happy to amble along with them, not needing the high drama of a suspense novel. Indeed, the books are so old-fashioned that it would be easy to imagine old-fashioned titles for each chapter: “In Which Bertie and Ranald Abscond to Glasgow and Are Apprehended by a Person of Authority” or “In Which Matthew Defies His Wife and Secretly Becomes a Mason” and so on.

But that’s all okay. The books are wise, the characters are thoughtful, the author has a wonderful sense of humor (one of the classmates at Bertie’s progressive school is named Tofu), and we readers can confidently expect a wonderful time in Edinburgh with the residents of 44 Scotland Street.
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Reading Progress

December 20, 2013 – Started Reading
December 20, 2013 – Finished Reading
April 21, 2014 – Shelved
April 21, 2014 – Shelved as: reviewed

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