Book of the year?
Corduroy Mansions series, as I had no recollection of it. I really should have read my own review as I clearly loved A conspiracy of friends, and much to my surprise The dog who came in from the cold has become a new favourite book.
The series was originally written for The Daily Telegraph first appearing as a serial podcast audiobook. All the chapters are therefore quite short. Inter-related stories run throughout the books looping through and around each other. In a sense each volume is a collection of short stories, but woven firmly together to make a whole.
To begin with, I wasn't sure that I wanted to read Dog. I'd borrowed it from the local library a few weeks ago, ironically around the time that one of my beloved hounds became seriously ill. Much as I enjoy Alexander McCall Smith, I sometimes find him rather overly sentimental, so I did debate whether to read the novel at all. Sentiment about dogs is the last thing I need at the moment, but (thankfully) I also remembered that he can be very funny. And so I began to read a wonderful tale.
There are four main strands to Dog: Caroline battling with an unhappy love life (not a great tale, but there are some wonderful little insights into human nature), a book publisher stalking a yeti while his partner falls in love (yeti stalking is hilarious and worryingly believable, while the romance of Barbara Ragg proves to be unexpectedly heartwarming while staying well clear of sentiment), eccentric Terrence Moongrove is about to be ripped off by a pair of con artists, can his canny sister Berthea, mother of the odious MP Oedipus Snark, save him from himself? Meanwhile William's Pimlico Terrier, Freddie de la Hay, is recruited by MI6 to spy on a group of Russian Mafiosa. Can Freddie survive? Will he be turned by the enemy? Or end up with his paws in concrete in the Thames? Or can William save the day and bring his best friend out of the cold?
It's a wonderfully hilarious read peopled by the most eccentric characters, who manage to be astonishingly believable. The philosophy of Freddie de la Hay had me laughing out loud. I just adored this book. It's Alexander McCall Smith's witty gentle musings on life and philosophy are at their very best here. It's a smashing book. The sort of read that leaves you feeling enwrapped in warmth.
There's a sharper edge to the Corduroy Mansions series, they lack the sentimentality that you find in some of his other work; and I think, perhaps for that reason, are actually finer, truer books. I just loved the gentle satire, the comedy, the humanity of the characters, and of course the dogginess of the dogs. It was a smashing read, one of my Chicken soup for the soul reads. If you've never read any McCall Smith before, this, surely, is the place to start.